Nov. 17, 2012
HAMILTON, N.Y. -
Looking to capture its second Patriot League crown in four years, the Army volleyball team's quest for the title fell short in a 3-1 loss to two-time defending champion American on Saturday evening at Colgate's Cotterell Court. In the second semifinal match of the day, the Black Knights could not overcome the Eagles in a 25-18, 24-26, 25-17, 25-16 decision.
Top-seeded Colgate swept No. 4 Lehigh in Saturday's first semifinal contest, setting up a Colgate-American final on Sunday at 3 p.m. The winner will earn the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Making its conference-record 14th consecutive tournament appearance, Army closed out the season with a 20-8 overall record - the program's fifth 20-win season under sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci.
Senior co-captain Ariana Mankus, the 2012 Patriot League Player of the Year, led all players with 18 kills in her final match in an Army uniform. One of the most prolific players in program history, she ends her career with 1,563 kills and 1,424 digs to rank second on Army's all-time lists in both categories. She is one of three players in program history to reach the century mark in kills and digs.
Junior outside hitter Margaux Jarka and sophomore middle Molly McDonald added eight and seven kills, respectively. Also playing her final match on Saturday, team co-captain Francine Vasquez totaled five kills. Two-time Patriot League Setter of the Year and 2012 Scholar-Athlete of the Year Mary Vaccaro tallied 36 assists to go with nine digs, six kills and three blocks.
Unfortunately for the Black Knights, 35 hitting errors and eight service errors contributed to the defeat. American also took advantage of a distinct height advantage with 18 blocks to Army's five. Sophomore Sara Rishell led three Eagles in double-figure kills with 16 on the night.
"This was obviously not how we wanted the season to end," Kovaci said. "But I'm of the team for the successes they had this season. We have to credit American for being prepared and executing tonight. We played well defensively, but the offense struggled to combat American's huge block."
Junior libero D.J. Phee, a second team All-Patriot League honoree, helped anchor that Army defense with a match-high 20 digs. Jarka added 18 digs in a solid all-around effort.
American took control of the opening set early and never relinquished. An Eagles error pulled Army within 8-5, but the Black Knights would get no closer the rest of the way. American used a 9-4 run to establish a 17-9 lead heading down the home stretch and held on for the 25-18 victory.
A back-and-forth set throughout, Army outlasted American for hard-fought 26-24 victory that leveled the score, 1-1, heading into intermission. The teams played through 19 ties and seven lead changes and neither led by more than two points the entire way. Mankus found a hole in the Eagles' defense, as her kill gave Army a 23-22 lead late in the action. Vasquez proceeded to drop an untouched kill just inside the line to give the Black Knights a crack at set-point, leading 24-23. A block out of bounds late thwarted the effort, but Jarka finished the job with back-to-back kills as the teams entered intermission tied at 1-1.
Army scored four of the first five points of the third set, including an untouched service ace from Mankus. The Eagles came storming back to level the score at 7-7 on a Rishell kill. The teams continued to trade points and found the score tied at 15-all just past the midway point. American then made its move, using a 7-1 run to take a 22-16 lead and not look back.
Trailing the match 2-1, the Black Knights put together a promising start to the fourth set. McDonald blocked American's Morgan Hendrix to give Army a 5-2 lead in the early going. The Black Knights would extend that lead to 6-3 on a Mankus kill just a couple of points later. The ensuing three points belonged to American, however, as the Eagles tied the score at 6-6. American later broke a 9-9 tie with a decisive 6-2 surge, giving the defending champs a 15-11 advantage midway through. Army struggled to get anything going offensively, watching the Eagles to extend their lead to 19-12 on another Rishell kill. Army would record four more kills, including a pair for Mankus, but it would not be enough to force a fifth set.
A young Army team will bid farewell to senior co-captains Mankus and Vasquez, but return three other All-Patriot League performers for 2013. Included in that group are Vaccaro (first team), Jarka (second team) and Phee (second team).
"I thank our seniors for giving everything they have to this program for four years," Kovaci. "They are incredible and will be missed. We've shown some real promise with some of our younger players, and I am excited for the future."
Fans are reminded to follow @Army_Volleyball for updates throughout the offseason.
Match Notes: Army and American met for the first time in a semifinal match on Saturday ... both teams entered the match with 20 wins on the year ... Army and American split the regular-season meetings and finished tied for second in the Patriot League standings ... the Black Knights had previously won four Patriot League titles (1991, 1992, 1994, 2009).