ARLINGTON, Va. -
Senior outside hitter Ariana Mankus celebrated her 22nd birthday in style, leading the Army volleyball team with 14 kills en route to a hard-fought 3-0 win over The Citadel on Friday night. The match marked the first of three contests for the Black Knights this weekend, all of which are part of the inaugural Service Academy Challenge hosted by the Pentagon.
After edging the Bulldogs by a combined four points (26-24, 25-23) in the first two sets, the Black Knights closed the match with a 25-19 third-set victory. Army hit below .200 for the first two sets, but saw its offense heat up to .295 with 17 kills in the final frame.
Mankus hit for a .282 average and added eight digs, while junior middle blocker Megan Wilton chipped in with 12 kills and three total blocks. Junior outside hitter Margaux Jarka totaled eight kills to go with seven digs. Sophomore setter Mary Vaccaro enjoyed a solid all-around match with 35 assists, four digs, three kills and a pair of blocks. Junior libero D.J. Phee and freshman setter Vanessa Edwards anchored the Army defense with 17 and 11 digs, respectively.
"We had to fight hard to get this one tonight," said sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci. "The Citadel gave us all we could handle and that's a credit to them. I was pleased with our resiliency and ability to close the deal in the third set. Tomorrow (against Denver and Air Force) is going to be a tough day, but one I know the team will be ready for."
The opening set entertained six tie scores throughout and saw Army dig out of a 16-9 hole midway through the action. Following an Army timeout, the Black Knights used a 6-2 run to pull within 18-15 on a Mankus kill. Continuing to chip away, Army finished the set riding an 8-1 run with Phee and senior co-captain Francine Vasquez each stringing together points from the service line. Back-to-back service aces courtesy of Vasquez leveled the score at 24-all, and Jarka finished the job with consecutive kills for the 26-24 victory.
The teams played back-and forth throughout much of the second set, which included eight ties but just a single lead change. The Citadel's lone lead came at 2-1, but the Bulldogs remained on the Black Knights' heels to the end, never trailing by more than three points. A Bulldog kill late in the match pulled them within 24-23, but Vaccaro went to Mankus for the set-ending kill (25-23) to give Army a 2-0 lead.
Momentum remained on Army's side as the Black Knights controlled the majority of the third set. The Citadel inched within 12-10 nearing the midway point, but would get no closer the rest of the way. Army answered with a 13-7 run, including a match-ending kill from Mankus.
Amanda Rudnik paced the Bulldogs' offense with 10 kills, while Mikaela Tracy added 29 assists.
The Black Knights return to action with a pair of Saturday matches. Army opens the day against Denver at 1 p.m. and plays service-academy rival Air Force at 5 p.m. Fans can get periodic updates via Army's official Twitter handle @ArmyAthletics.
Match Notes: U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno was among the 100 spectators for Friday night's match ... Army and The Citadel met for the fourth time in program history ... the Black Knights remain undefeated against the Bulldogs ... junior right side hitter Kerry Horan started the third set and finished the match with two kills ... freshman outside hitter Nicole Perri saw action in the third set and added one block and a single kill.