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Chowan wins first CIAA title

HAMPTON, Va. – Tears and cheers.

That’s what poured out of the Chowan University volleyball team and their fans Sunday onto the floor of the Boo Williams Sportsplex in Hampton, Virginia. Chowan had just won its first-ever Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association sports championship in their inaugural year as members of the league.

How’s that for history?

Led by tournament Most-Valuable Player and ‘Rookie-of-the-Year’ Karina Monroe, the Hawks rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Fayetteville State in five sets, 17-25, 25-19, 21-25, 25-15 and 15-11 to claim Chowan’s first crown in school history.

Leading 11-9 in the fourth set and up two games to one it looked as if the Broncos would claim the crown that had eluded them in 2008, but Chowan battled back and won 11 straight points to grab control thanks to 15 kills and eventually they won the set and tied the match at 2-2.

They then opened with a four-point lead in the fifth and deciding set and though Fayetteville State came within a point at 8-7, Chowan went on the finish things with a strong rally down the stretch and end the contest with an FSU return into the net that sent the Hawks fans into a frenzy.

That’s when the team collapsed in joy on the floor with hugs and tears as the title they had fought so hard to win was theirs.

“What can I say,” said speechless second-year coach Peter Green. “We were just able to keep the fire and win a great match that went all the way to the fifth game. These girls really played hard.”

Antoinette McCullough along with teammates Monroe, Victoria Lewis and Callie Armistead, made the All-Tournament team. She also finished with a team-high 21 kills, but none more meaningful than the one that put the Hawks ahead to stay in the fourth set. Monroe had 15 kills with 11 for Lewis and Armistead had a game-high 45 assists.

CIAA Player-of-the-Year Chekimbrell Jefferson led FSU with 21 kills and four blocks. Ifeyinwa Nwokolo and Joi Emmanuel combined for 19 kills while Samantha Meeks added nine kills and 16 digs.

“I can’t stop smiling,” said in exhausted McCullough on the bench as she clutched the championship plaque. “Our goal was to be faster than they were because we knew Jefferson was going to get her kills and we had to capitalize by being quicker to the ball than they were.

In every set but the fifth and deciding one, Chowan had trailed early and had to fight back. They also took advantage of nine FSU service errors to five for the Hawks and Chowan had no errors on blocks.

“When you can go seven-feet vertical like she (Jefferson) could,” added McCullough, “we knew that we just had to put a hand in her face and give her something to think about.”

Jefferson finished with a team-high seven attack errors.

The key for Chowan were also their blocks both in the middle and on the outside against the taller Jefferson, who along with teammates Achari Mainor and Meeks, gave FSU a formidable front line on any returns at the net.

But Green’s rotation of McCullough and Monroe in the middle, plus Lewis and Desaray Turner on the outside kept the Broncos off-balance in the final two sets. The Hawks set the ball more to the advantage of the outside hitters and their 17 outside kills contributed greatly to the win.

“Jefferson’s an excellent player,” said Turner, who was very emotional after the win. “We made an adjustment after we figured out what they had done in the first two sets and it paid off for us.”

“Their block was real solid in that fourth set,” said first-year FSU coach Reeshemah Johnson. “They rolled those points up and in a rally point game, it’s really hard to come back when you get that far down.

“We played an excellent game,” she added. “It’s just that Chowan beat us. They just played a little better than we did.”

“We had to constantly watch for open spots,” said the hoarse Monroe, who had very little voice left after the match from all the shouting. “We kept moving and just seemed to find those spots.

“Plus,” she added, “they seemed to make errors trying to get around our blocks. We were just hustling for every ball until we could get that point.”

“It was really just a tug-of-war,” said Lewis. “We’d get up and they’d get up. We’d get down and they’d get down. Fortunately, our crowd really kept us in it.

“I feel as anxious as I feel tired,” she added with a smile, “because I know we have more to come. We’ve still got work to do.”

Chowan (29-8, 17-1,CIAA) now receives the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division-II volleyball tournament which begins on November 19. The seedings will be determined after this weekend.