University of Mount Olive posted decisive wins in the second and third sets, but Belmont Abbey College rallied for a 25-21, 18-25, 14-25, 25-12, 15-12 victory over the Trojans in Conference Carolinas women's volleyball Saturday at Kornegay Arena. Danielle Plante led the Trojans with a career-high 16 kills, while Britni Johnson added 15 kills and 15 digs.
Despite the loss, Mount Olive clinched a spot in next month's Conference Carolinas Women's Volleyball Tournament. The Trojans hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over Pfeiffer, which fell to Barton Saturday.
After dropping the opening set, back-to-back aces by Casey Fiechter helped Mount Olive (7-19 overall, 3-9 Conference Carolinas) jump out to a 7-2 lead in the second set. The lead ballooned to 16-8 after a kill by Plante before Belmont Abbey rallied with six unanswered points. The Crusaders pulled within 18-17, but kills by Johnson and Sarah Watkins and an ace by Samantha Winfield kept the Trojans in the lead. Blocks by Montgomery Register on the final two points capped a set-ending 7-1 run and evened the match at a set apiece.
The third set was all Mount Olive as Aubrey McKinney served a pair of aces and Johnson recorded kills on consecutive points to give the Trojans a commanding 13-1 lead. Belmont Abbey cut the margin to single digits at 21-12, but Mount Olive was never threatened.
The fourth set was in direct contrast of the third set with Belmont Abbey (12-13, 9-4) jumping out to a 7-1 lead on the strength of a combined three aces by Gabby Martinez and Dani Fortunato. The margin reached double figures at 19-9 and the Crusaders went on to force a fifth set.
Mount Olive fell behind early in the fifth set, but Johnson and Register notched two kills apiece during a 7-1 run to give the Trojans an 8-4 lead. Belmont Abbey chipped away and Trojan attack errors on back-to-back points put the Crusaders ahead to stay at 12-10. After McKenzie Call pulled Mount Olive within a point, a kill and an ace by Coreen Norwood moved Belmont Abbey within a point of winning the match. Watkins saved one match point with a kill, but Fortunato's kill sealed the win for the Crusaders.
Mount Olive rode McKinney's serving to keep the first set tight. McKinney had two aces and set up an overpass that led to Dezirae Mackey's kill in the middle to tie the set at 20-20. Belmont Abbey's Caitlin Hankins had a block and a kill during a 4-0 run to put the Crusaders ahead to stay and added a kill on set point.
McKinney finished with five aces to go with 32 assists, while Fiechter added three aces and 13 digs off the bench. Register led all players with seven blocks as Mount Olive finished with 10.5 team blocks. Winfield, who saved a ball beyond the end line during a point late in the second set, recorded 18 assists.
Hankins shared match-high honors with 16 kills and had only one error in 29 attempts for a .517 hitting percentage for Belmont Abbey. Martinez recorded 44 assists and matched teammate Tabitha Sims with four aces. Julie Newell led all back row players with 23 digs.
Mount Olive steps out of conference Tuesday as the Trojans travel to Murfreesboro, N.C., to take on Chowan. Mount Olive rallied from a two-set deficit for a five-set victory in the two teams' first meeting September 10 at Kornegay Arena. Match time is 6 p.m.