BALTIMORE - Just like last season, Saitaua Iosia's 25th kill in the fifth set against Florida A&M at the P.E. Complex at Coppin State solidified UMES's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title. UMES defeated Florida A&M in five sets (25-16, 25-21, 18-25, 14-25, 15-12) to repeat as conference champions and earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
"The girls believe no matter what," said head coach Don Metil describing the team's fifth set, "In years past I have had teams that get down, but this team adapted quickly."
UMES improves to 28-5, the highest amount of victories UMES has had in a season since 2003 when the Hawks went 26-12. Florida A&M drops to 14-10 on the year.
Iosia (Long Beach, Calif.) finished with 25 kills in the match, the same amount as last year's title match against FAMU, with 15 digs. She was honored as the Most Outstanding Performer in the MEAC Tournament for the second straight season after earning 60 kills, 10 aces and 32 digs combined in the three matches.
"I was told I wasn't going to play this season," said Iosia, "I was devastated, and [when I learned I would play] it was a big motivation, and it was great to be out there."
In addition, Victoria Williams (Los Angeles, Calif.) earned a place on the All-Tournament team after earning 15 kills against FAMU and 48 in the tournament with a .513 hitting percentage.
"[Victoria] is a fantastic player, she performed fantastic this weekend, and we needed her to be successful this weekend, and she did; we had more than one Most Outstanding Player," said Metil about Williams.
Metil was chosen as the Most Outstanding Coach in the tournament after leading UMES to its second straight MEAC Championship.
First Team All-MEAC Ndidi Ibe (North Richland Hills, Texas) got UMES going in the first set with a pair of kills. A Maline Vaitai (Salt Lake City, Utah) ace tacked on a point for an opening 3-0 run. After a Katherine Huanec kill, Iosia earned her first kill, followed by an Ibe ace for a 5-1 UMES lead. The Hawks and Rattlers started trading points as UMES stayed ahead, but FAMU got within two 12-10. Ibe came on strong again with a kill and ace, then an Iosia kill built the UMES lead to five. After a FAMU point, Iosia added a pair of kills to push the Hawks up six, later getting a 3-0 run started by an Iosia kill and ace for a 20-12 advantage. Two late kills by Ibe, and a Vaitai ace to end the game, helped UMES get a 25-16 set one win. Ibe was a perfect 6-6 on kills in the first set, adding two aces.
"As a senior, you always wonder if this is the last time you'll be out there," said Ibe after the match, "but it was a great feeling to be out there and win it."
At 1-1 in the second set, Ibe again got UMES started with a kill and ace, adding a point with a Diana Gonzalez attack error for a 4-1 Hawks lead. Following a pair of exchanges, a Corey Haynes (Falls Church, Va.) kill, Williams kill and Iosia ace pushed the score to 8-3 UMES. FAMU responded with a 3-0 run, capped by a Karol Marquez ace, to pull within two. At 11-8 Hawks, the Rattlers won five of the next six points, including two Maria Ceccarelli kills, to take a 13-12 lead. UMES countered by taking four of the next five to go up 16-14. The teams battled some more, tying the set up at 17 and later 18. UMES took command, building on an Ibe and Vaitai combo block and following up with a Vaitai ace and Gonzalez setting error for a 21-18 UMES lead. The Hawks did not trail again by less than two, as late kills by Iosia, First Team All-MEAC Jessie Vicic (Cambridge, Ontario, Canada) and Williams helped the Hawks win 25-21 and take a 2-0 lead in the match.
The third set started back and forth as the two teams tied early 4-4. A pair of UMES errors gave FAMU an early 6-4 advantage. At 9-6 Rattlers, a Vicic dump kill and Ibe solo block on a Pamela Barrera attack pulled UMES within one. FAMU went back up by three, and again the Hawks got to within one on an Iosia kill and Ibe ace. But off Ceccarelli's serving, FAMU went on a 4-0 run to go up 15-10. UMES kept getting countered on points until at 19-13, UMES took the next four points off Haynes's serving to get within two 19-17. But that is as close as UMES got, as the Rattlers won six of the final seven points to take set three 25-18.
FAMU continued its strong play into the next set, as the Rattlers started up 5-2, capped by a Ceccarelli ace. Following an Iosia kill, three straight Yeisha Arcia kills built Florida A&M's lead to five 8-3. At 10-5, a couple of FAMU errors and two Ibe kills got UMES back within two 11-9. But the Rattlers responded with a 4-0 run, including two kills and a block from Ceccarelli, to go up 15-9. UMES could not get back, as at 17-12, a UMES attack error and Marquez's serving gave FAMU a 5-0 run for a 22-12 Rattlers advantage. Florida A&M won the set 25-14 to force a fifth set tiebreaker.
UMES came into this match perfect in five-set matches this year, something that Metil relayed to his team before the tiebreaker set.
"We said to the team that we are 7-0 [in five-setters], and we said that FAMU does not make a lot of changes, and we were ready for them," said Metil.
At 1-1 in the fifth set, a Barrera service error gave UMES the lead. On Vicic's serving, the Hawks earned kills from Williams, Iosia and Williams again to surge ahead 5-1. Following an exchange of points, a 3-0 FAMU run capped by an Arcia kill pulled FAMU within one 6-5, later to 7-6. Vaitai earned a sideout on a kill, and after the switching of sides, Ibe got an unassisted kill, followed by a Vaitai kill for a 10-6 UMES advantage. Kills from Arcia and Ceccarelli pulled the Rattlers back to within two, but a Vaitai kill put the score at 11-8. FAMU again got to within one after taking three of the next four points. But Iosia came through once more with two straight kills to give UMES match point at 14-11. FAMU defended once on a Ceccarelli kill, but in the exact same rotation and setup as last year's match-winner, Iosia delivered the championship-winning kill to give UMES a 15-12 set five win and second straight MEAC title.
UMES, now 8-0 in five-set matches this season, hit .280 in the match, including at least .414 in sets won today and .033 or below in games fallen, also contributing 11 service aces.
Ibe also had a strong match against FAMU, finishing with 12 kills, four aces and a team-high three blocks. Vicic concluded with 57 assists, three kills and five digs. Jingqiao Li (Beijing, China) had a team-high 12 digs, while Megan Mueller (Manchester, Mo.) had nine. Vaitai finished with eight kills, three aces and six digs, while Haynes had two kills, two assists, an ace and a block.
Ceccarelli led the Rattlers with 16 kills and six digs. Arcia also had 16 kills, adding seven digs. Huanec finished with nine kills and three digs.
The Hawks will find out where they will play next Sunday during the NCAA Selection Show on ESPNU.