Hawks come up short

Published 4:22 pm Monday, November 7, 2011

HAMPTON, VA. – The Chowan volleyball team knows now, perhaps, how the Texas Rangers baseball team feels.

The Rangers got within two strikes of winning the World Series – twice – in an elimination game before they succumbed to eventual winner, St. Louis.

Sunday, the Hawk spikers got within match point in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) Championship game at the Boo Williams Sportsplex only to see St. Augustine’s College rally and win the match.

The Lady Falcons won by scores of 20-25, 21-25, 26-24, 25-23, and 17-15; and they avenged their loss to Chowan in last year’s championship match.

The St. Aug’s victory also ended Chowan’s two-year reign as league champions and gained the Falcons the CIAA’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division-II volleyball tournament.

So close, and in the end: no three-peat.

And no third straight title for team captain, Tori Lewis. It was about the only honor the senior outside hitter didn’t claim over the weekend after being named Player of the Year, All-CIAA, and making the All-Tournament team.

“Honestly,” she said seated, exhausted, on the bleachers at the Sportsplex after the match, “if I didn’t get (these honors) I was fine with it.  I just wanted us to win another championship.

“We have the potential to go farther than where we are right now,” she added.

It’s been a whirlwind season for Chowan. The team steam-rolled through the regular season without a loss in conference for the first time in their three-year CIAA history.

At the three-day Hampton tournament beginning with pool play on Friday Chowan’s juggernaut run continued with easy 3-0 wins over Livingstone College and Virginia Union University before they were stunned by Winston-Salem State, 3-2.

It was the only CIAA match the Hawks had dropped all season; but they bounced back in Saturday’s semi-final, rallying past Fayetteville State, 3-1, and setting up the showdown with St. Aug’s.

In the finale, five players would record double figure kills for Chowan led by Monica Ruffin with a team-high 17. Lewis had 15, while Karina Monroe had 14, and Megan Sawyer finished with 13.

Freshman Nikira Fults – who was named CIAA Rookie of the Year on Friday – added 10.
Lewis recorded a game-high 25 digs, while Tara Thomalla has 21 and Callie Armistead tallied a game-high 62 assists, six away from the Chowan school record.

But the flip-side of that, and may’ve been what was most costly for the Hawks were their 13 service errors.

“We came out and fought through our first two matches,” said CU skipper and 2011 Coach of the Year, Peter Green, “but then we allowed St. Aug’s to get momentum, and that’s when they become a dangerous team.”

The keys to victories in the first two matches was not allowing the Falcons to establish that momentum, and much of that came because Chowan was able to sustain scoring runs. An eight-point run in the first match helped propel them to the 25-20 win.

Match two was closer, but Chowan still prevailed thanks to their dominance in the middle and won that one, 25-21.

Then, things changed.

Following the timeout, Chowan seemed confident, but could never get a solid run going.  Tied 21-21 in the closing minutes St. Aug’s got a kill to give the Falcons the lead followed by a Chowan return error to put them up by two

But Chowan scored the next three straight and at 24-23 needed just one more point for their third title.

But it never came.

St. Aug’s scored the next three points on two Chowan return errors and a Falcons kill to win by two, 26-24, and get new life.

In the fourth set, Chowan fell behind by two, 12-10, but rallied to tie it. In fact, the lead changed hands a total of five times and the teams tied 15 times in the set.

Chowan looked assured of victory when the Falcons trailed by two three times in the waning points – 19-17, 21-19, 23-21. But much like in the third set, they closed with a 4-0 spurt to keep the match – and their season – alive.

The fifth – and deciding – set mirrored the others, though St. Aug’s built an early advantage with a 10-7 lead.

But it was Chowan who rallied to tie the game at 10 and as tension built with each point, the teams traded service breaks until the Falcons reached their first match point at 14-13.

Chowan rallied again and tied it twice more, the last time at 15-all before a questionable net call moved the Falcons within one point of destiny. Then, with anxiety in the air for both teams, St. Aug’s Keisha Parris leapt high and slammed home her 20th kill.

Bitterly, for Chowan (26-8) it also slammed the door on the Hawks’ season.

“They’ve got some great hitters over there,” reflected Green, “and if they ever can just get a ball they can find a way to put it down.  And that’s what hurt us.”

“Point for point it was a great match,” said senior co-captain Thomalla. “Same as last year, I knew they weren’t going to quit.”

“We’ve been fighting all year, trying to get over the hump,” said St. Aug’s coach Nikki Bynum. “We stayed together as a family and worked hard. That’s how you get moments like this.”

Though Chowan is not ranked in the latest volleyball regional standings they’re hoping their record of success this season means they can play on.

“I hope we’ve got some more season left,” said Monroe.  “If not, we’re going to work hard in the spring season and come back ready to go.”

TOURNAMENT NOTES: Chowan’s Lewis, Monroe and Ruffin were each named to the All-Tournament team, along with St. Aug’s Parris, Kathryn Tokarski (Tournament MVP), Roxanne Smith and Victoria Davis. Rounding it out were Kiara Brown (Winston-Salem State) and Joi Emanuel (Fayetteville State).