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WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 16, 2018) – It has been an adventurous trek. There have been 2-win seasons, rosters with only five players and some years without a postseason invite to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. 

 

But head coach Hal Clifton navigated the North Carolina A&T volleyball program through all of those difficult mazes and received a small reward for doing so on Friday afternoon. 

Even though they are from where they want to eventually finish, the N.C. A&T cleared a hurdle they have stumbled over for the past 12 years. The Aggies defeated the Maryland Eastern Shore Hawks 3-2 (25-23, 25-19, 17-25, 25-27, 15-7) at Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium in the first round of the 2018 MEAC Volleyball Championship Tournament. 

 

The win marks the Aggies first conference tournament win since 2006. N.C. A&T (13-11) is also guaranteed to finish above .500 for the first time in 12 years. The Aggies will face Florida A&M 5 p.m., Saturday in the first of two semifinal matches at Burr Gymnasium. N.C. A&T has a chance to end a 40-match losing streak to the Rattlers.  

 

“What a win today,” said Clifton. “I’m so proud of the team and how well they competed. Our first five-setter (of the season) and we stayed in it.”

 

 N.C. A&T entered its first five-set match since losing to Bethune-Cookman 3-2 on Oct. 13, 2017 despite winning the first two sets on Friday against the Hawks (10-16). It was immediately apparent the moment was not too big for a team of five freshmen and four sophomores. 

 

The Aggies scored the first four points of the deciding set as sophomore Edie Brewer had a kill and a block assist during the run. After MDES’s Rachel Kayongo ended the run, the Aggies ran off six straight points to take an 11-1 lead. The Hawks had three attack errors during the run. A Hawks service error put the Aggies on the brink of victory as they took a 14-6 lead. An Aggies attack error halted the move toward the semifinals momentarily, but Brewer finished off MDES with a kill off of a junior Christa Wilson set. 

 

There is no indication that Brewer’s spectacular performance was spurred on by the versatile talent not being included on the MEAC all-conference teams. But the box score seems to paint a picture that something significant was motivating her. She torched the Hawks with 11 kills, 27 assists, a career-high five service aces, nine digs and three blocks. Brewer also posted a .450 hitting percentage. 

 

As terrific as Brewer was, it was freshman Lily Walton who led the Aggies in the first set with three kills and no attack errors on seven attacks. MDES outside hitter Lucia Babic, who had a match-high 29 kills, got the Hawks to within one at 24-23 with a kill in the first. First-team All-MEAC performer Courteney Pitt ended the set, however, with a kill. The Aggies flew out to a 21-12 lead in the second set before a 4-0 run moved the Hawks to within five. It was as close as the Hawks would get as Wilson ended the set with a kill.

 

MDES got the best of the Aggies in third before a thrilling fourth set ended in disappointment for N.C. A&T. The Aggies led 22-18 before the Hawks forced the fifth set with a 7-3 finish forcing Clifton to channel the football team’s motto. 

 

“If something bad happens, keep playing. If something good happens, keep playing,” said Clifton. “We did that. Dropping Set 3 and how we lost Set 4 could have been heartbreaking. But the team stayed focused and we said, ‘one point one focus’ as we entered the fifth. I was glad to see them dial back in.”