Winthrop needed five sets to beat UNC Asheville, but got it done for its second straight win. The Eagles won the match 25-22, 25-27, 25-18, 23-25, 15-11 to improve to 2-1 in the Big South Conference and 5-10 overall.
UNC Asheville (8-7, 0-2 BSC) came in determined not to let Winthrop senior middle hitter Shannon Sitzmann beat it. The Bulldogs repeatedly doubled up the defense when Sitzmann got a touch.
"Sure, it is frustrating, but more of a motivation," Sitzmann said of the job UNC Asheville did on her defensively. She has seen it all in her time at Winthrop.
"I didn't have a very good game, but my teammates were there all day to pick me up. It definitely feels good to win two straight. It gives us more confidence," Sitzmann said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
UNC Asheville's defense closed the door on Sitzmann, holding her to 10 kills and a .000 hitting percentage. But she nearly closed out the Bulldogs in the fifth set with six straight points, giving Winthrop a 14-8 lead.
Winthrop coach Sally Polhamus said teams will often key on one player. Against Winthrop, it is usually Sitzmann.
The double-team on Sitzmann opened the door for junior Kelley Taylor and sophomore Kaley Viola. Taylor finished with 24 kills, two off her career high, and hit .340.
Viola did set a career high with 23 kills while hitting .365. Paired with her 11 digs, she now has back-to-back double-doubles and four on the year.
"Sweet," was all Viola could say after the match when she learned her kill total. She said Winthrop recognized that the Bulldogs were going to double up on Sitzmann, and they were staying with it.
The Eagles played a brutal early season schedule against some nationally ranked opponents. Polhamus put the schedule together in hopes of preparing her team for Big South play.
Conference play began Sept. 27 at Gardner-Webb. The Eagles lost the match, their first-ever to the Bulldogs.
Winthrop bounced back Friday with a BSC win at home against Presbyterian to snap an eight-game skid. Outside hitter Kellie Sellers left the match with a knee problem. She was unavailable against UNC Asheville and will see a doctor Monday to evaluate the severity of the injury.
"We are getting there as a team. This is why we played such a tough schedule early, to get us ready for conference. It is starting to pay off now," Polhamus said. "With our youth, we are still having trouble putting sets away. We had great fans and support this weekend. That helps, especially in a five-set match."
Chrissy Albers, playing extensively for the first time as a setter at Winthrop, gave Taylor and Viola great chances all day. Libero Janice Rivera led the Eagles with 26 digs.
In the first set, Winthrop was slow getting started. UNC Asheville jumped out to a 6-1 lead. Sitzmann and Taylor keyed the comeback with eight combined kills.
Sitzmann and Lauren Huber teamed up to block a Bulldog attack to give Winthrop a 23-22 edge. Taylor put the game away with her fourth and fifth kills of the set.
Asheville came back from a 17-14 deficit in the second set behind outside hitter Kelsey Benorden. In the process, the Bulldogs lost middle hitter Lauren Ficker when she crashed into the right post, wrenching her right knee, following a kill.
"She's probably out for the season," UNC Asheville coach Julie Torbett said.
Benorden led all players with 26 kills in the match.
Winthrop plays Coastal Carolina at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in Conway.