WASHINGTON, D.C. (November 18, 2018) – North Carolina A&T volleyball took a young team from being the third seed out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Southern Division to the championship match of the 2018 MEAC Volleyball Championship Tournament on Sunday against the three-time defending conference champion Howard Bison.
Even though the Bison were able to capture their fourth straight title with a 3-0 (25-23, 27-25, 25-16) win over the Aggies at their home facility, Burr Gymnasium, the Aggies have a ton to build upon.
The Aggies (14-12) finished above .500 for the first time in 12 years. They won a postseason match for the first time in 12 years with their win over Maryland Eastern Shore on Friday. They beat Florida A&M on Saturday in the tourney semis to capture their first win over the Rattlers in 20 years ending a 40-match losing streak to FAMU. By beating FAMU and advancing to Sunday’s championship match, the Aggies were playing in the MEAC final for the first time in 13 years.
“Not many people thought we would be here, but my staff did a tremendous job this season,” said N.C. A&T coach Hal Clifton. “Not just the coaches but all who are involved with our program. The experience will go a long way as we continue to grow and develop. Sure, I’m disappointed in the loss, but I’m not lost in what we did.”
N.C. A&T fought and scrapped over the first two sets as they tried to secure the program’s first-ever conference title. Neither team posted impressive hitting percentages which a better hitting percentage from the Aggies could have left the four-time reigning champs vulnerable.
Instead, MEAC Player of the Year Tamia Dockery and Courtney Dalton were strong for the Bison in the first set. Each player had three kills without an attack error as the Bison took a 24-20 lead in the first.
But a service error by Kia Porter opened the door for the Aggies. Freshman Macenzie Richards followed the service error with a solo block for N.C. A&T to cut the Bison lead to 24-22. Richards struck again on the Aggies next point. She had help from junior Makaylah Elliot as the two combined for block assists to make it a 24-23 set. But Jurnee Tipton ended the set, however, with a kill.
Both teams had a .000 hitting percentage in a second set that went down to the wire. N.C. A&T took an 11-7 lead in the set thanks to a kill from junior Christa Wilson. The Bison recovered to take a 19-15 lead. The Aggies drew closer with a solo block from redshirt freshman Fatimah Shabazz and an attack error from the Bison.
Howard extended its lead to three, 22-19, before the Aggies made a run to tie the set. Attack errors from Tipton and Courtney Dalton along with a kill from sophomore Edie Brewer tied the set at 22. The Bison put themselves on the brink of winning the set with a kill and an attack from N.C. A&T.
Elliot kept the set going with a kill, a Bison attack error tied the set and a kill from sophomore Courteney Pitt gave the Aggies a 25-24 lead. But a 3-0 Howard run that included two kills from Kailyn Williams gave the Bison a two-set lead. A 4-0 run in the third set gave the Bison a 21-13 that the Aggies never recovered from the rest of the way.
“We battled tonight and gave Howard a heckuva match,” said Clifton. “We didn’t capitalize on a couple of clutch moments, but we will learn from them. The loss hurts. I could see it in our team’s eyes. When it hurts like that you know you have a group that cares.”
Pitt led the Aggies with nine kills ending her streak of matches with double-figure kills at nine. Brewer posted her 15th career double-double with 23 assists and 14 digs to go along with six kills. Wilson finished with seven kills with only one attack error and she added 11 digs to her totals. Freshman Andrea Laboy-Rivera had a career-high 29 digs.
The Aggies will lose only one senior in setter Megan Wiggins. Two of their top players in Pitt and Brewer will only be juniors in 2019 and All-Rookie libero Laboy-Rivera has three more years in the Aggies back row.