AIKEN, S.C. -- Aimee Cloninger tallied 11 kills and Belmont Abbey hit a season-high percentage of .261 as the Crusaders earned their first win of 2016, 3-0 over Merrimack in the finale of the USC-Aiken Invitational. Earlier in the day, the Abbey dropped a 3-0 decision to the host Pacers.
The Belmont Abbey-Merrimack contest was like the first seven of the year for the Crusaders, hard-fought despite the sweep. The Abbey led 22-21 when a kill by Hannah Dubas and an ace by Alexandra Henriott set up triple match point. The Warriors saved two, but another Dubas hammer clinched the 25-23 victory.
In the second set, Belmont Abbey broke a 2-2 tie with a 6-2 run and never trailed again. With the score 12-10, the Cruaders added a 6-3 spurt that turned into a 13-6 run, closing out the 25-16 decision.
The final set featured Belmont Abbey rally. Trailing 19-11, the Crusaders tallied five straight points, then rebounded from a service error for back-to-scores, making the score 20-18. The Warriors led 24-21, but Belmont Abbey gained five straight points on Sarah Kenney's serve for the 25-23, 25-16, 26-24 victory. Kenney herself tallied the clinching point on a back-row attack.
In the first action of the day, Belmont Abbey fell behind early and never recovered, falling 25-15, 25-22, 25-20. Henriott was the only Crusader to reach double figures in kills with 10, while Kenney added 16 digs.
Belmont Abbey plays its ninth straight match away from home on Tuesday when it opens Conference Carolinas play at King. The home opener is set for Friday night at 7 against Southern Wesleyan.