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Hawks avenge loss to FSU

MURFREESBORO – Sometimes there’s nothing like a birthday celebration.

Chowan volleyball player Antoinette McCullough celebrated her birthday Thursday by helping lead the Hawks to the top of the heap in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association volleyball standings with a 25-23, 25-19, 21-25, 25-14 win over division rival Fayetteville State at the Helms Center.

As the raucous home crowd of nearly 300 chanted, “Happy Birthday,” McCullough finished with a team-high 13 kills in posting the 3-1 win. Teammates Victoria Lewis and Karina Monroe tallied 11 kills apiece while Lewis tallied 10 digs and had three blocks.

“We’ve been preparing for this since we lost to them (3-0 September 22 at Fayetteville)”, said McCullough, “and since it was my birthday I was pretty hyped anyway.”

“We really wanted it,” said second-year Hawks’ coach Peter Green. “We came out of their gym (after the loss) with a goal of saying we can play better. They’re a great team, but we focused on some things we could do to beat them and I’m very proud of the girls because they went out and did it.”

The match featured the two top kill-leaders in the CIAA in Monroe and FSU’s Chikembrell Jefferson. Jefferson had a team-high 10 kills and Achari Mainor had 29 assists in the match for the Lady Broncos.

It all came down to hitting as the Hawks out-hit their opponents, 43-to-32.

“It was rough, make no mistake about that,” said FSU coach Reeshemah Johnson, “but Chowan held it together a little bit better than we did and it helped that they had the home court advantage.”

Indeed, the Broncos were harassed all night by a group of over a dozen Hawks fans painted in blue and white that chanted the entire match.

Fayetteville State jumped out to a 16-13 lead in the first game before Chowan regrouped thanks to their jump serves and tied it at 16-16 on a vicious kill by sophomore Deseray Turner. Chowan then went up 20-17 thanks to four straight points scored on Turner’s serve.

But the Broncos rallied to tie it at 20 and again at 23 before Chowan got the final two points for the 25-23 win thanks to consecutive kills by Monroe.

The Broncos opened the second game again with a 4-0 lead thanks to kills by Jefferson and Samantha Meeks before Monroe helped lead the Hawks back and tie it at 10-all.

Chowan then went up by two before Johnson called time out and tried emphatically to rally her team. But Chowan came out of the time out with a service ace by Charla Hughes and then scored four straight points on her serve.

Fayetteville came back to tie it at 15-15, but that was as close as the Broncos came. Chowan got a kill from McCullough, then scored four points in a row to go up 23-18. FSU came back to score one more point before Chowan closed it out with the last two points and the 25-19 game-clincher coming on a service ace from Victoria Lewis.

FSU kept it from being a shutout as they took the third game, 25-21, thanks to holding off Chowan down the stretch with strong blocks up front and kills from Mainor and Cailee Huffman.

In the final set, Chowan opened strong and never looked back, opening with a 9-2 lead and upping it to 13-6 before a FSU timeout.

After that short break, Chowan really began to turn up the heat in a game that featured several strong rallies. McCullough tallied four kills in the final set as Turner finished off the match with a smashing kill that left several Broncos sprawling on the floor on the back line and the Helms Center erupted in celebration.

“We brought in a lot of energy,” said Turner, “and our crowd had a lot to do with that because we were really feeding off of them. We have some things we still need to work on, but we’re gradually getting there.”

“I think we got a little down on ourselves after dropping that third game,” added Armstrong, “but our fans really helped pick us up. I hope we can take a lot of them to Hampton.”

Speaking of Hampton, where the CIAA Tournament will begin next weekend, the Hawks (23-8, 16-1,CIAA) can go in as the top seed with a win in their home finale Saturday at 4 p.m. against St. Augustine’s College as the only team in the league with just one loss.

“I don’t want to walk out of there (Hampton) thinking we can rely on an at-large bid coming,” said Green. “I want to win the tournament.”

“If we go in there playing hard,” said McCullough, “I have no doubt we can win it.

“In fact,” she added with a sly grin, “if we win it all, it removes all doubt our playing in the post-season.”