By Florida A&M Sports Information
BALTIMORE, MD (Nov.18) – The FAMU Lady Rattlers nearly pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in MEAC championship volleyball history, but in the end they fell 3-2 to 2012 champion University of Maryland Eastern Shore today at the Physical Education facility on the campus of Coppin State University.
The Hawks took the first two games by scores of 25-16 and 25-21. After the break, the Lady Rattlers caught fire and did the improbable of winning two games to bring the game to the fifth and deciding set.
FAMU head coach Tony Trifonov was happy with his team’s fight, but was unsatisfied with the hole the team left itself in. “In the break after the second game, we talked about the errors in the first two games and made some adjustments. We changed our blocking and made some adjustments to force UMES into some errors. We controlled the game with our serve a little better. We were able to fight back and tie up the match, but unfortunately we let it slip away in the fifth,” Trifonov said.
FAMU suffered its first conference loss of the season after a perfect 10-0 record in the regular season. The Rattlers were led by senior outside hitters Maria Ceccarelli and freshman Yeisha Arcia, who scored 16 kills each to lead the team. Katherine Huanec carded nine kills in the championship match.
Ceccarelli, who made the MEAC All-Tournament team and ends her stellar career at FAMU with Wednesday’s senior day, was emotional about the tournament and her time at FAMU. She and the Lady Rattlers left it all on the court, but in the end it just wasn’t to be as UMES capitalized off of FAMU errors and made key plays themselves. “I feel disappointed. We fought back, winning in the third and fourth sets and tried hard to win the fifth set, but it wasn’t to be today,” Ceccarelli said.
Senior Pamela Barrera scored seven kills, Andrea Soriano scored three and Diana Gonzales chipped in two to round out FAMU’s scoring. As a team, the Lady Rattlers hit a solid .320, outhitting the Hawks, but the unforced errors would be the difference in the match.
Setter Diana Gonzales dished out 48 assists in the championship game. Ceccarelli and Karol Marquez also had an assist each. Marquez would pace the Lady Rattlers defensively with 15 digs. Ceccarelli, Barrera and Marquez also scored two service aces each.
Trifonov attributes the loss to the FAMU defense. “We didn’t stop their big hitters. They hit over .300 on us, which is a good percentage for an outside hitter. We weren’t successful in blocking them at all in the first two games. Our blockers were too passive, when we needed to be more aggressive. We were going straight up instead of penetrating the net, giving up way too many points,” he said.
MEAC Volleyball championship most outstanding players, Saitaua Iosia, finished the match with 25 kills to lead the Hawks. Victoria Williams smashed 15 kills, while Ndidi IBE finished with 12 kills to round out the trio of Hawks to score double digit kills. Jessica Viccic issued 57 assists on the day. Jingqiao Li had 12 digs, while Iosia had 11 defensively for UMES.
After dropping the first two sets, the Lady Rattlers put on a display of their versatility. With a concerted team effort, they beat the Hawks 25-18 and the most decisive victory of the day at 25-14. Both teams played five set semifinal rounds as the Norfolk State Spartans took the Lady Rattlers to five sets, while the Hampton Pirates took the Hawks to five less than 24 hours prior to the championship.
Trifonov felt several factors contributed to the team not being able to settle down early. “In the first two games especially, we gave up 11 aces. That is way too many aces. We’re not a bad passing team. It was just the nerves I think got the best of us the first two games,” he said.
The intersting statistic that describes how close these teams are is final points scored. The Lady Rattlers scored 99 points ont he day while the Hawks scored 97. Ceccarelli and Arcia both made the MEAC All-Tournament team.
The Lady Rattlers complete back-to-back runners-up finishes in the MEAC championship and will close out the season Wednesday with Senior Day, that is sure to be emotional as Maria Ceccarelli, Pamela Barrera and Karol Marquez play their last games in the orange and green. Ceccarelli didn’t wait to express her gratitude for her time at FAMU. “I am proud. I am proud to be a Rattler and proud to have had the opportunity to represent FAMU. And it has been a fine journey here at FAMU. Sorry we didn’t get the results we wanted today, but we did our best,” she tearfully said.