The Charlotte 49ers volleyball team (10-8, 1-2 C-USA) lost in a valiant effort against the Florida Atlantic University Owls (11-4, 2-1 C-USA) in a 2-3 loss on Sunday night, Sept. 30 in Dale F. Halton Arena.
The team was able to win the first two sets, but lost momentum as the match progressed. After dropping the third set in close fashion, things began to unravel as they lost the final two sets, eventually losing the game.
“It was an exciting battle between us and FAU. We are honored to play them and always enjoy it,” said Niners’ Head Coach Karen Weatherington. “They are a great team and we certainly do some things to emulate them. We have a lot of similar athletes and I thought it was a great match for them to come and test us early in our conference. It was a tough one to drop, but I was proud of our team.”
The first set got off to a quick start as #11 Nya Steele would record a service ace with the first serve of the game. Both teams would continue trading points until it was the Niners at 12-11. Three attack errors in a row by FAU left the score at 15-11, and two more points would be scored before the visitors would call a timeout at 19-11. Eight points later the Niners would be in position to take the first set at 24-14, but multiple kills by FAU’s Massiel Matos would leave the Niners at a stand-still. Two points later by the visitors and Charlotte would finally take the first set.
The second set would start with the 49ers up 4-1 before FAU brought it back. The set would tie at 7-7, again at 13-13, again at 17-17 and once more at 23-23, with both teams swapping the lead. Reeana Richardson, who would lead the 49ers with 17 kills on the night, would record a ground-shaking spike on the opposing team, making the stadium roar as it neared set point. Two points later, Charlotte would take the second set 25-23.
The home team again took the lead in the beginning of the third set, but it would quickly be distinguished as the team had already begun to lose momentum. After jumping to a 12-10 lead, the team would lose six of the next seven points to put them down 14-15. The team would not regain the lead in the third set, falling 26-28, but would still hold the overall lead at 2-1.
In the fourth set the momentum would shift completely. For the first time of the match, FAU would take the early lead. What started as a 1-2 deficit quickly expanded into a 14-25 loss in the set. At one point midway through, FAU would score seven points in a row, the most at any point in the match.
Before the fifth set, the Niners took the brief intermission to run back in to the hallways of the stadium, presumably for the coaches to give inspiration for the fifth and final set. But, instead of the coaches standing up to inspire the team, it was the players.
“I said it was a team responsibility and our team is above all and they had to lay it on the line,” said Weatherington. “But honestly we didn’t talk much as coaches. Some of our upperclassmen stepped up and said their going to lean on each other and we are going to give back to the other team, and if we do that . . . [we] think that’s going to keep us in this and give us a chance to win it, and we did that. We fought to the end.”
In the fifth set, the Niners would appear to gain their composure once more, drawing inspiration from their brief meeting, as they would go back and forth with the visitors up until it became tied at 9-9. A tough kill by FAU’s Sigourney Kame would pull the wind out of the home team’s sails momentarily, but the ladies would fight back still when the score reached a critical point. At 9-14, match point for FAU, the home team ladies would win four points in a row, each by different players. But it wouldn’t be enough. At 13-14, Matos would score the winning blow, a shot that would sail over the heads of the home team, unable to return the ball into play.
“I think their hot hitters got going. We had a blocking scheme to try and slow them down, but a lot of it is about hitting percentage and blocking, and when you don’t get those key blocks in key moments then that momentum shifts back and forth. I think our passing was a little bit off, but we managed to regroup at the end and showed a great fight. This competition level is what our league has become and it’s always going to be a battle,” said Weatherington.
The tough loss for the team would round out the month of Sept. in which they would go 7-6 in 30 days.
Charlotte looks to turn it around at N.C Central on Oct. 2. at 6 p.m. their last non-conference opponent of the season, before facing eleven straight C-USA teams before the C-USA Championships.