Nov. 10, 2012
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - After three close sets, the Army volleyball team used a strong 25-18 fourth-set win en route to its 20th victory of the season at Lehigh late Saturday afternoon. The Black Knights' 3-1 victory served as the team's final regular-season tune-up before embarking on the Patriot League Tournament next weekend at host Colgate, Nov. 17-18.
Lehigh, meanwhile, secured its Patriot League Tournament berth on Friday night and joins Colgate, American and Army (20-8, 11-3) in the four-team playoff. The Black Knights draw the third seed and will face defending champion American in next Saturday's second match at 6 p.m. at Cotterell Court.
A back-and-forth match the majority of the way through, the first three sets were decided by a combined seven points (25-22, 23-25, 25-23).
Senior co-captain Ariana Mankus paced the Black Knights for the third match in a row with 17 kills. She hit for a .239 percentage and completed a double-double with 10 digs. Sophomore setter Mary Vaccaro also recorded a double-double with a match-best 50 kills to go with 15 digs and five kills. Junior outside hitter Margaux Jarka added 11 kills over four sets, while senior co-captain Francine Vasquez and sophomore middle blocker Molly McDonald chipped in with nine kills apiece. McDonald and freshman middle blocker Zoe Kreitenberg hit for .467 and .667 percentages, respectively.
"This was a great match against very tough competition heading into the Patriot League Tournament," said sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci. "Our middles (McDonald, Kreitenberg) grew a lot during the course of today's contest. Their play will be key heading into playoffs next week, along with us continuing to focus on playing our game to the best of our ability."
Army outlasted Lehigh 25-22 in the opening set. The Black Knights turned a 2-2 tie into a 6-3 lead on a Jarka kill and watched it grow to solid 20-14 lead following a Mountain Hawks miscue. Lehigh did not go away, however, pulling within 22-19 after an Army attacking error late in the contest. The Mountain Hawks later inched within 22-21, but the Black Knights never relinquished the lead. A pair of Vasquez kills and a McDonald block helped secure the 25-22 victory.
The Black Knights owned the first three points of the second set, but the next three points belonged to Lehigh as the first of several tie scores during the frame. Neither team led by more than three points the entire way, but it was Lehigh closing out the set on top. A Black Knights error began a 3-0 Mountain Hawks run to close the set and tie the set at 1-1 heading into the intermission.
Momentum shifted back to Army's side after the Black Knights edged Lehigh 25-23 in the third set. The Mountain Hawks scored the first three points unanswered and soon pushed it to an 8-4 advantage when Army called timeout. A McDonald kill then ignited a 7-3 run as the Black Knights established an 11-10 lead. Army led 17-14 courtesy of a Vasquez kill and continued to hold a slight lead for the majority of the later third of the set. The Mountain Hawks took a 23-22 lead, but this time it was Army's turn to close the set with a 3-0 run and collect a 25-23 win.
Looking to close out the victory, a Mankus kill gave the Black Knights a 14-9 lead midway through the fourth set. Kills from Krietenberg, McDonald and Jarka helped Army extend its lead to 20-14. The Black Knights hung on for a 25-18 win and completed the regular-season sweep of the Mountain Hawks.
Army will make its conference record 14th-straight Patriot League Tournament appearance next weekend at host Colgate. Semifinals are set for Saturday, Nov. 17, with the championship match being played on Sunday, Nov. 18, at 3 p.m. Visit www.patriotleague.com for more information.
Match Notes: Army now owns a 32-13 lead in its all-time series against Lehigh ... the Black Knights have won 20-straight against the Mountain Hawks ... Lehigh is coached by Bob Bertucci, who served as Army's first head coach in 1978 ... he also coached Alma Kovaci during her Hall of Fame career at Temple ... junior libero D.J. Phee broke Army's single-season record for digs, totaling 557 thus far in 2012 ... the previous record was set in 1991 ... Phee is third on the Black Knights' all-time digs list with 1,320.