After beating UAB in the Conference USA in quarterfinals in Hattiesburg, MS on Thursday, Charlotte volleyball's historic season came to an end on Friday, April 2, at the hands of #24 Rice. The 49ers ended the season with a 13-5 record and winning percentage of .722, their highest in 41 years.
UAB 2, Charlotte 3
Charlotte did well on both offense and defense to beat the Blazers in a tight game, 3-2.
"Our defense was phenomenal. They have some really crafty attackers so we knew we had to make adjustments rotation by rotation and I think our team really responded with the small things we were doing," said Head Coach Karen Weatherington.
The Niners were quick to take a 10-4 lead in set one. Four of those ten scores came off of kills by Lara Kretschmer. From there, Charlotte kept UAB at bay and maintained their lead, letting it get no lower than three points. The Niners took set one 25-19.
In set two, UAB was the one with the hot start, taking a 12-6 lead, giving them breathing room. A 6-2 run from the Niners put them back in it, finding themselves down by just two. The game was tied at 20 after a Nalani Lyde kill. Following this, for every two scores UAB got, the Niners could only answer back with one. UAB took set two 25-22.
Set three saw eight lead changes. Charlotte had a few runs, getting an early 3-0 run, taking the lead back a bit later with a 4-0 run, and with the score 24-23 and UAB nearing a set victory, the Niners scored three straight to take the set 26-24.
In set four, Charlotte had a five points lead over UAB early on, with the score at 12-7. UAB went off for seven straight points to bring them to a two-point lead. Once UAB was leading 20-17, each team went back and forth with single points until UAB reached 25 to take set four 25-21 and tied the game up at two sets each. In set five, Charlotte didn't take the lead until 4-3, and they maintained that lead for the rest of the set.
Rowan Sydney and Emani' Foster combined for eight kills in set five, and it was Sydney who delivered the final kill to give Charlotte the quarterfinal victory following the 15-10 set-five win.
"We knew it was going to take everything we had," stated Head Coach Karen Weatherington in a post-game interview. "UAB is a fantastic team. We knew our defense was going to be key, but offensively we just had to out-muscle them today. Our team is super gritty and incredibly fiery."
The final kill by Sydney Rowan gave her 11 on the night to crack Charlotte's top-10 career kills list. Emani' Foster led the team in kills with 20. Amani McArthur and Nalani Lyde each had 15 kills which was a new career-high for McArthur and tied Lyde's best this season. McArthur delivered her 15 kills on 24 total attacks for an extremely efficient .542 hitting percentage.
"We wanted to have really good distribution through this match and we knew we had to do that. I have to credit our setters. We're hitting .318 as a team, that's all setting. That's all offensive execution," said Weatherington.
Charlotte 0, #24 Rice 3
Charlotte only scored 52 points in the 0-3 loss to the nationally-ranked Owls in their first semifinal game in school history.
"I thought today was a glorious beginning to our 2021 season," said Head Coach Karen Weatherington after the game. "That's how we're going to look at it. Rice is a very talented team, they should be ranked top-10 in the nation."
Rice had a clear advantage in the first set. They led or were tied with Charlotte for the entirety of the set. Rice led by as much as eight after a four-point scoring run and went on to take the first set 25-17.
Rice took an early 6-4 lead in set two, but a three-point scoring run gave Charlotte the 7-6 lead. Rice answered back with a completely dominant run. They scored nine straight points and went on to have a 13-1 run to take the strong 19-8 lead. Charlotte got a few more points on the board before the end of the set, but Rice took set two 25-13.
Rice took control of set three and was up 21-14 mid-match. It looked like we'd see another poor set for Charlotte. However, the Niners showed a fight and went on a 7-1 run to bring them within one, 22-21. Four of these seven points came off of kills by Emani' Foster. Rice scored three of the next four points to take set three and the match victory.
"We proved we can play with any team in the country, that we can score and that we have systems and abilities to really show up and have someone contend against us," said Weatherington. "They had a great game plan, and you know when teams are designing their defense around quality players like Emani' Foster and Sydney Rowan, you find a way."
Nalani Lyde led the Niners in kills with nine, followed by seven from Rowan and Foster. Annika Wetterstrom had a team-high of 18 assists.
After a historic season, Weatherington had only good things to say.
"Throughout the entire challenge of this last year, this team has stayed together, grown together, worked hard for each other, and supported each other to establish a championship culture," she said.
Charlotte finished the season 13-5 overall and 9-3 in conference games. The Niners were flawless at home, winning all seven home games. The team will take the court again in the fall, losing only one senior.