CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Charlotte 49ers volleyball team nearly made an unprecedented comeback on Tuesday night before falling 19-17 in a 15-point fifth set dropping a 3-2 decision to Winthrop in non-conference action. The Niners, who trailed two sets to one, nearly completed the full comeback with three match points in set five despite committing 57 errors in the loss. Britney Leigh Held, Conference USA’s reigning Setter of the Week, posted the rare triple-double with 10 kills, 41 assists and 13 digs.
Trailing two sets to one and down 19-16 late in set four, Charlotte sophomore Claire Kreuz sparked the comeback with two kills in three plays helping the Niners get even at 19-19. After a service ace from Shelby Green and Winthrop error, Kreuz followed with another one of her match-high 17 kills to give Charlotte a 22-19 advantage. Another Green ace would set up set point before Kreuz put down the set’s final kill sending the match into a decisive fifth set.
After a couple of quick strikes by Winthrop to start of set five, a Kreuz kill and Morgan Barker ace evened things up before more Charlotte errors aided Winthrop in their 11-8 lead. Charlotte again fought right back with a kill from Held, Savannah Gaster and Sarah McDonald tying the contest back up at 12-12 forcing a Winthrop timeout. Another Barker ace put the hosts up 13-12 before a Rachel Lenz kill evened it for Winthrop. After Lenz followed with a service error to give the Niners their first match point at 14-13, Raveen Golston came up with the big kill for the Eagles to knot the contest back at 14-14. After both teams traded points to go 17-17, a final kill from Alina Sopizhuk and fittingly, the final Charlotte error, gave Winthrop the 3-2 match win.
“We couldn’t find a way to put the ball away, but I’m proud of the way we fought back tonight,” commented Head Coach Gokhan Yilmaz. “We were down 21-18 in the fourth set, came back and won that and ended up playing a well-played fifth. But, once it goes that long 19-17, you never know whose going to win.”
Earlier in the match, Charlotte took a pretty comfortable set one win 25-17 behind six kills from Held. Gaster’s kill at 10-10 would put the Niners up for good in the opening stanza as Held added four more kills and a final service ace to ice set one by eight. Charlotte hit a massive .483 in the opening set.
Charlotte ran out to as much as a five-point lead in set two on another kill from Gaster giving the Niners a 12-7 lead. From that point on, errors really started to stack up against the Niners beginning with the four-straight that allowed Winthrop right back into the set. Charlotte would go on to commit seven more errors over the second half portion of the set handing Winthrop seven additional points in their 25-23 win squaring the match at one set apiece.
“We were up midway through the second set and playing ok, but all of a sudden we starting making too many mistakes,” continued Yilmaz. “We gave up 10 points in mistakes after the midway point. Once you start doing that, it’s tough to win volleyball matches.”
Winthrop would lead wire-to-wire in the third set despite Charlotte getting to within one on five different occasions. The Niners briefly brought the score back to even at 9-9 on a combo block from Held and Gaster and found themselves down one at 15-14 on another Kreuz kill, but again, errors on both offense and defense aided the Eagles in the 25-22 third set win.
Charlotte recorded 61 kills on the night as a team while Winthrop only needed 52 coupling those with the Niner miscues. Winthrop would only commit six fewer errors than Charlotte at 51 but limited their inaccuracies during the same time the Niners couldn’t right the ship.
“We don’t quit, we always want to play,” finished Yilmaz. “We always want to make a defensive play. We’re not going to win every rally, we’re not going to win every set and early in the year, these types of matches are character builders so we’re going to have to learn from it and improve if the same situation happens later in the year.”
Neither team hit well on the night with both sides hitting in the red figures in the 25-22 set four win for Charlotte. Set four was the only stanza where the better hitting team in that particular set, did not come out with the win.
Individually, Kreuz’s 17 kills for Charlotte came up two shy of her career-best set at Davidson last year posting a match-high while Abreia Epps added a dozen. Sopizhuk paced Winthrop with 13 kills while Emma Weakland added 11.
Charlotte gets back to action this Friday and Saturday traveling to Philadelphia to participate in the Temple Invitational. The Niners will face Princeton and host Temple on Friday before tangling with Holy Cross on Saturday.