WEST POINT, N.Y. - The Army volleyball team won a 3-0 match in dramatic fashion as the Black Knights came storming back from a significant third-set deficit to defeat service academy rival Air Force in Friday's final match of the West Point Challenge at Christl Arena.
Sophomore OH Ariana Mankus' 10 kills and season-high five service aces led the Black Knights. Freshman MB Megan Wilton and junior OH Fabiola Castro added eight and seven kills, respectively. Wilton led all players with a .429 hitting percentage, while she contributed to five blocks on the night.
Army (6-7) trailed by as many as nine (16-7) in the third set, but the Black Knights surged back in front of a raucous Christl Arena crowd and finished off the 25-21 victory riding an 18-5 run. The Black Knights took sets one and two by 25-19 and 25-20 scores, respectively.
"Tonight we showed that we are a team of fighters," said two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Alma Kovaci. "The secret to a good team is to find itself in a tough situation and be able to come back. We stayed focused and patient and were able to adjust accordingly. I saw a confidence in their eyes, and I am so proud of the staff and entire team for coming up with such a hard-fought win."
The Army defense held Air Force to a .140 attack percentage and put three players over the double-digit dig mark, including senior L Brittany Jensen (14), freshman OH D.J. Phee (11) and sophomore RS Francine Vasquez (11).
Senior S Karyn Powell totaled a match-high 36 assists.
"Karyn (Powell) ran a good offense tonight and really found our hitters," Kovaci said. "Brittany (Jensen) brought it tonight. She took her game to another level and served consistently when we needed her. I was proud of our outsides too. They came up big when we needed them to."
The teams battled through seven ties in the early part of the first set with the final coming at 11-11. From there, Army embarked on a 9-4 run to pull ahead by a 20-15 score on a Castro kill. Air Force would get no closer the rest of the way as senior MB Amanda Rowell posted consecutive kills to seal the first set in Army's favor.
The momentum stayed on Army's side to start the second frame as the Black Knights cruised to a 10-4 lead in the early going. The Falcons proceeded to score nine of the next 12 points to level the score at 13-all on a Cami Richan kill. The Black Knights were able to stave off the rally, helped immensely by back-to-back Mankus service aces that would give Army a 16-13 lead that it would not relinquish. Air Force inched back to within one (16-15), but would get no closer the rest of the way. Mankus put the exclamation point on the effort by capping the set with consecutive service aces.
Air Force seemingly took control in the third set, establishing a healthy 15-6 lead on an Army error. Coming out of an Army timeout, the Black Knights began to chip away at the deficit. The Black Knights pulled to within four (20-16) on an Air Force error. Jensen stepped to the service line coming out of a Falcon timeout and served for the next six points unanswered. Army's blocking game - two from Vazquez and Wilton - came through with a pair of key points, while Army took advantage of a Jensen service ace and Vasquez kill during the critical stretch. An Army miscue gave Air Force the serve trailing 22-21, but three-straight kills courtesy of Vasquez, Phee and Wilton in order completed the Black Knight comeback.
Caroline Kurtz led the Air Force (2-9) attack with 11 kills, while Jessica Hellman was the only player to record a double-double on the match with 14 assists and 10 digs.
"We have a long way to go, but tonight was a step in the right direction," Kovaci added.
Day two of the West Point Challenge will take place on Sunday, Sept. 18, at Christl Arena. Army will take on Buffalo (12 p.m.) and Hofstra (7:30 p.m.) on Sunday. Click here for a complete schedule.
Match Notes: Friday's match officially began the 2010-11 Army-Air Force series ... 715 spectators took in the match ... Army is in the midst of a three-match win streak.