MIAMI – The UNCW volleyball team closed out its appearance in the FIU Classic Saturday with 3-2 (25-21, 25-20, 22-25, 23-25, 15-13) loss to Alabama and a 3-1 (25-23, 25-18, 24-26, 25-20) setback to host FIU in action at U.S. Century Bank Arena.

The Seahawks moved to 4-2 on the season as they suffered their first two setbacks of the 2013 season. UNCW returns to action Friday as it opens the Hilton Garden Inn Mayfaire UNCW Volleyball Classic with matches against North Carolina A&T (2:30 p.m.) and UNC Asheville (7:30 p.m.).

Versus Alabama, sophomore Laura Steiner pitched in 24 kills and freshman Krystal Rivers added 21 spikes on the strength of a .731 hitting percentage to guide a Crimson Tide attack that finished the match with 77 kills and a .344 attack clip. Sophomore Sierra Wilson dished out 66 assists while freshman Brittany Thomas and junior Caitlin Bernardin tallied 11 digs each lead four players in double figures in that category. Thomas also added 15 kills to finish with a double-double.  

Senior and All-Tournament Team selection Christi Laite tallied 21 kills, committing just two attack errors in 35 total attempts for a .543 hitting percentage, to lead a UNCW attack that combined for 59 spikes and a .287 attack clip. Junior Morgan Kilne added 10 spikes while senior Siera Young and sophomore Meredith Peacock pitched in seven kills each. Sophomore Victoria Phillips dished out 27 assists and freshman Alyssa Desjardins added 21.

“I have to give our team a lot of credit for their bounce-back mentality after dropping the first set and then also holding their composer in the fourth set when the score was tight,” said Bambenek of her team’s match against Alabama. “We saw action from a lot of players but Christi and Morgan were consistent with finding ways to get kills and our defense was relentless.

After falling in the first two sets, 25-21 and 25-20, UNCW rallied to take the third set, tallying 11 of the final 15 points of the frame to erase an 18-14 deficit and record a 25-22 triumph.

The Seahawks would once again battle back in the fourth set, this time closing the stanza on a 13-4 run to eliminate a 19-12 Crimson Tide cushion and force a decisive set with a 25-23 victory.

In the fifth set, Alabama would tally three of the first four points of the frame on its way to building a 9-5 cushion midway through the frame. UNCW yet again pushed back, pulling within one, 14-13, before a Steiner spike gave the Crimson Tide a 15-13 victory and the match.

“This was an epic battle and felt we played with a lot of heart,” said Bambenek. “Offensively we did a fantastic job in each set but defensively we had trouble facing multiple big hitters and made some unforced errors at crucial times. Christi was a huge threat that Alabama didn't have an answer for and we had solid attacking from both the middles.”

Against FIU, junior Ksenia Sukhareva tallied a match-high 19 kills while sophomore Lucia Castro and senior Kimberly Smith pitched in 15 spikes apiece for the Panthers, who teamed up to record 58 kills and a .248 hitting percentage. Sophomore Ashlee Hodgskin and freshman Anabela Sataric dished out 25 and 24 assists, respectively, to quarterback the FIU offense. Senior Jessica Mendoza finished with a match-high 18 digs and sophomore Adriana McLamb joined her in double figures with 13.

Laite once again lead the UNCW attack as she notched 17 kills and turned in a .351 attack clip. Phillips handed out 20 assists and added 10 digs for her second double-double of the season while Desjardins notched 15 assists and six digs. Sophomore Lindsay Hartmann recorded 12 digs to lead the Seahawks in that category.

FIU scored five of the final eight points of the frame to break a 20-20 deadlock and take the first set, 25-23, before using a 15-6 run to cruise to a 25-18 triumph in the second set.

UNCW battled back to extend the match with a 26-24 victory in the third set that saw the Seahawks overcome both a 20-12 deficit and match point on two occasions to record the two-point victory.

In the fourth set, the Panthers took advantage of a 10-5 run late in the frame to break open a one-point lead, record a 25-20 decision and take the match.

“FIU played a great match and felt we were constantly playing catch up,” said Bambenek. “Our middles and right sides played well, but we struggled putting the ball away on the left side. Today showed the ups and downs of our sport and our team will learn from this and come back strong for our first home showing next weekend.”

FIU Classic All-Tournament Team
Alabama – Sierra Wilson
Alabama (MVP) – Krystal Rivers
FIU – Kimberly Smith
FIU – Ksenia Sukhareva
UNCW – Christi Laite
HBU – Caiti Wenger