Sept. 21, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. - In a rematch of last season's conference championship, Army trailed American 2-0 and could not seem to find any sort of rhythm to open Patriot League action on the road. The next three sets could not be more polar opposite, as the Black Knights rallied to a 3-2 over the defending champion Eagles at Bender Arena. After forcing a decisive fifth set, Army dominated in a 15-7 effort to complete the comeback.
American (7-6, 0-1 Patriot League) controlled the first two sets and it resulted in 25-15 and 25-16 wins, respectively. Army (9-5, 1-0) won the next two sets by a combined six points (25-21, 25-23) before hitting for a match-high .300 percentage and rolling in a 15-7 fifth-set win.
"We weren't playing Army volleyball in the first two sets," said sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci. "I never came into this match talking about winning. It was all about coming in here and playing our absolute best. I reminded them of that during the break and could not be more proud of the response from each and every one of them. We had some players step up tonight, but ultimately, the team persevered and began playing Army volleyball.
"It's not easy to come in here and beat American on its home floor," Kovaci added. "They are an excellent team. We went through some adversity early on, but I'm so proud of the team's mental toughness. We showed a lot of growth tonight."
The victory marked just the second time Army has won at Bender Arena, sixth time the Black Knights have defeated American during Patriot League play and the first triumph over the Eagles since the 2009 Patriot League Championship match.
Senior co-captains Ariana Mankus and Francine Vasquez paced Army with 20 and 10 kills, respectively. Junior outside hitter Margaux Jarka added 15 kills and a career-high 22 digs. Sophomore setter Mary Vaccaro, the reigning Patriot League Player of the Week, led all players with 47 assists.
While the Black Knights' top offensive threats were revealed in the final three sets, the team relied on staunch defense all night long. Junior libero D.J. Phee delivered a match-high 24 digs, while Vasquez and freshman Zoe Kreitenberg totaled five blocks apiece. Army's defense held the Eagles to a .166 hitting percentage on the night.
A flat Black Knights team came out to open the match. While a Molly McDonald kill deep into the Eagles' defense capped the surge and tied the score, 12-12, American retaliated with a 6-1 run and held an 18-15 lead at an Army timeout. The momentary pause in the Eagles' momentum did not last long as they closed the set with seven unanswered points and took a 1-0 lead in the match.
The second set opened under odd circumstances as a controversial call resulted in officials calling for a replay of the first point. The Black Knights wound up taking a 1-0 lead, but it was short-lived as American jumped out in front, 10-3. The Eagles controlled the set from there, leading by as many as 10 points on several occasions down the stretch.
A revived Black Knights team took the floor in the third set and over the next hour, mounted the biggest comeback of the season. With his team facing a four-point deficit, American head coach Barry Goldberg burned his first timeout of the match. Kreitenberg and McDonald teamed for a double-block coming out of the break as Army continued to work on its lead. The Black Knights extended their lead to 17-9 on a Jarka kill off AU's block. The Eagles scored the next four points unanswered, but Army was able to fend off the spurt and collect a 25-21 win. Vasquez turned an American overpass into a set-ending kill to squash AU's rally.
The close battle continued into the fourth set. A Vaccaro kill put Army on top 5-4, but the Eagles went ahead 8-6 soon after. A second-high Vaccaro kill pulled Army within 8-7 as the Black Knights continued to battle. An American miscue leveled the score at 13-all midway through the action, beginning a steady string of three ties throughout the rest of the set. The Eagles held a 23-22 lead, but allowed Army to steal the next three points and force a fifth set. After a long rally, Mankus delivered a kill into the heart of the American defense to level the score at 23-23. A Jarka service ace - Army's lone ace of the match - gave the Black Knights a 24-23 lead, while Mankus finished the job with her sixth kill of the set.
American scored the first two points of the fifth set, but Army jabbed right back with the next five points, highlighted by a Kreitenberg kill for the third tally. The Black Knights dominated every facet of the game from there, closing the match on a 10-5 run to clinch the victory.
"This team is resilient and tonight was a perfect example of that," Kovaci said. "The team and entire staff worked so hard preparing for Patriot League play to start. That includes our entire coaching staff, Michelle Carrone in strength and conditioning, (MAJ) Travis Tillman, our mental coach, and (2LT) Rachel Willis, our athletic intern. The entire staff deserves a share of the credit for this one."
The Black Knights look to keep momentum rolling tomorrow night as the team visits service academy rival Navy for an 8 p.m. match with the annual "star" on the line. Army has won the last 10 "star" matches and holds a 39-10 lead in its all-time series with the Mids. Navy will webcast tomorrow night's match via All-Access. Army fans with a Knight Vision subscription may use that login information to gain access to the feed. Click here to sign in.
Game Notes: Army withstood 15 untimely service errors throughout the match ... Army and American met in last season's Patriot League Championship match ... the Eagles took that contest by a 3-1 score and represented the conference in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row ... junior middle blocker Megan Forbes made her second appearance of the season Friday night ... Army combined for 20 errors in the first two sets and added just 15 errors over the remaining three.