Aug. 30, 2014
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- After successfully opening its 2014 campaign with a win Friday night, the Navy volleyball team split a pair of matches Saturday on the second and final day of the Kristen Dickmann
Invitational at the Wesley A. Brown Field House in Annapolis. The Midshipmen dropped a four-set decision to Southern Utah Saturday morning (22-25, 25-19, 25-23, 25-19) and posted a three-set sweep of The Citadel Saturday evening (25-19, 25-19, 25-23).
"It was good to see everyone was highly disappointed -- not happy at all -- with our match this morning, and how they bounced back from it this evening," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "That's a sign of maturity from a young team. It was really good that we recovered. That's a big, good signal."
The Mids put together a strong start to their match against the Thunderbirds by using a 5-0 run to take an 11-6 lead before building a 16-9 cushion. Navy's lead was soon 20-16 and 22-18 before Southern Utah ran off the ensuing four points to tie the frame. The Mids tallied the next three points to win the set on a service error by the Thunderbirds, a kill by Katie Sylakowski (Jr., Escondido, Calif.) and a ball handling error by Southern Utah.
The Thunderbirds went on a 5-0 run of their own early in the second set to take an 8-3 lead. A service error by Southern Utah made it a four-point margin, but the Mids would trail by at least that amount over the remainder of the set as the Thunderbirds tied the match at one set each.
The third set saw the score tied 10 times and change hands on five occasions. Southern Utah ran off four-straight points to take an 18-14 lead on its way to taking a 24-21 advantage. Sylakowski and Maggie Phillips (Fr., Leesburg, Va.) combined on a block to make the score 24-22, and soon it was 24-23 on a service ace by Sofia Luczak (So., Aiea, Hawaii). However, a block by Madi Forsythe gave the Thunderbirds the third set.
After holding a slim 7-5 lead in the early part of the fourth set, Southern Utah slowly edged its way out to a 12-8 lead before notching seven of the next 10 points to take a 19-11 cushion. The score was 21-14 in favor of the Thunderbirds when the Mids rallied and closed to within three points at 21-18. After the teams traded kills, a Navy service error and back-to-back attack errors by the Mids closed out the nearly two-hour match.
"It was a matter of playing us a team that was playing well when we were struggling with first and third contacts," said Bock. "We became real conservative and paid for it. We were passing the ball to 10 feet and attacking everything to the heart of the court. They started to block us and things went downhill from there.
"The first set, however, was some of the best volleyball I've seen from us in this gym. We'll take that effort and build on it."
Southern Utah controlled play at the net as it recorded 13 blocks to Navy's 7, which allowed the Thunderbirds to hold a .177-.067 advantage in hitting percentage despite the visitors posting just seven more kills (47-40) in the match than the home team.
Navy never could get into a strong enough rhythm to develop a hot hand on offense. Five Mids had at least six kills in the match, but Dororthy Murray's (Fr., Harbor City, Calif.) seven kills would lead the team.
Defensively, Alli Graf (So., Annapolis, Md.) grabbed 22 digs while setter Star Steele (Jr., Tampa, Fla.) grabbed 15 digs to go along with her 16 assists.
Forsythe recorded 16 kills, a .225 attack percentage, 10 digs and 2 blocks to lead the Thunderbirds.
"Southern Utah is going to turn some heads this year," said Bock. "Their good new players combined with their healthy returning players give them a real physical team that has good ball control to go along with a talented setter. That's a real good team. I think we got better this morning. It didn't feel real good, but I do think we got better from the match."
Navy began its second match of the day by jumping out to a 7-3 lead over The Citadel in the first set. The Bulldogs quickly made it a one-point set by pulling to within 8-7, but the Mids slowly took a 13-8 advantage. The teams pretty much traded sideouts for the next several points before The Citadel winnowed the margin down to two points at 18-16. The squads exchanged the next four points to give the Mids a 20-18 lead when a kill by Rachel Fortner (Fr., Villa Hills, Ky.) gave Navy a 21-18 lead. The cushion grew on an attack error by the Bulldogs (22-18) followed by back-to-back kills from Sylakowski (23-18, 24-18). The Citadel staved off one set point on a kill, but Fortner put another ball down to give the Mids the opening set win.
The Mids jumped out to a lead of 10-4 in the early going of the second set and were able to maintain a cushion of at least three points over the remainder of the frame to take a 2-0 lead in sets.
Neither team was able to separate itself from the other the entire length of the third set. The score would end up being tied 15 times and the lead was exchanged four times. The Bulldogs recorded a sideout to take a 23-22 lead before an attack error by The Citadel tied the score again at 23-23. After a Navy timeout, Phillips hit a ball from the left side of the court that barely grazed a Bulldog blocker at the net just in front of the up official before going out of bounds. The result allowed Sylakowski to serve for the set. The Mids would convert the opportunity on an attack error by The Citadel.
"Maybe the best part of the weekend is that we got to show some different looks against a good team that beat Providence in four sets today as we did Friday night," said Bock. "It wasn't an easy match. Even with playing with a number of different looks and with a lot of personnel, there wasn't much drop off for us. That was a lot of fun."
Navy hit a healthy .292 and recorded 50 kills in the three sets while holding The Citadel to 29 kills and a .138 attack percentage. Though the Bulldogs held an 8-4 edge in blocks, the Mids snared 54 digs to 39 for The Citadel.
Sylakowski had her second very strong match of the weekend as she recorded 14 kills and just three attack errors on 22 swings for a .500 hitting percentage. Those numbers went along with a pair of digs and an equal number of blocks Saturday night. Also sparking the Navy offense were Fortner with eight kills and a .462 attack percentage along with Shelby McCool's (Fr., Eugene, Ore.) seven kills and .583 hitting performance.
Graf led the Mids with 14 digs, while Maeve Drummey (Jr., Silver Spring, Md.) totaled five digs over the last two sets of play.
"Maeve is steady-eddy," said Bock. "She is a good teammate to be on the floor with. We know exactly what we are going to get with her, and that is consistently good stuff. We know we can go to her in a lot of different circumstances and she will deliver."
Sylakowski and Steele were selected as Navy's representatives to the all-tournament team this weekend. Sylakowski averaged 3.36 kills and hit .439 over the course of the three matches, while Steele, who shared the setter position with Fortner in Navy's 6-2 lineup, dished out an average of 7.18 assists per set and averaged 2.55 digs per set.
"Katie hit for gigantic numbers this tournament, especially last night and this evening," said Bock. "She is just a stud.
"Star was real steady the whole way through. She set a good offense, played good defense and she obviously is one of our best servers. It was well deserved for both of them."
Southern Utah posted a 3-0 record on the weekend to win the Kristen Dickmann Invitational. Setter Faith Ma'afala was tabbed as the most valuable player on the weekend, with her SUU teammate Forsythe also being named to the all-tournament team. Rounding out the honorees from the weekend were Mallory Murray from The Citadel (1-2) and Michelle Cruz from Providence (0-3).
Navy will travel to Charlottesville, Va., next weekend to take part in the Cavalier Classic. The Mids will face Alabama on Friday before taking on both tournament-host Virginia and LIU-Brooklyn on Sept. 7.
"We are capable of being an exciting, good defensive team," said Bock, "but as soon as someone threw a change-up at us, that was not good. Our blocking was real good at times, and at others we were way too high and shallow. Our attack was real good whenever we were smart and aggressive, but when we became conservative it wasn't. We have to work closer to that edge between timid and mindlessly aggressive. We went too far toward timid at times, especially this morning.
"There is lots of work to do. We are not there yet; not even close."