Sept. 2, 2012
FAIRFAX, Va. - A double-double by Erin Fortner (Jr., Villa Hills, Ky.), a career-high 13 kills from Alex Cassel (So., Sandy, Utah) and a combined 28 digs from the tandem of Carolyn Ewert (Sr., Bakersfield, Calif.) and Christy Rapp (Sr., Sr., Royal Oak, Mich.) resulted in the Navy volleyball team closing out play at the Patriot Invitational by defeating George Mason in four sets Sunday evening in Fairfax, Va. The Mids posted the win over the Patriots by set scores of 17-25, 25-23, 25-21 and 25-19.
"This win could not have come at a better time," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "It was a well-deserved win by our players, against a George Mason team we had lost to last year and who earlier in the day had defeated West Virginia."
Navy (2-5) built an early lead of as many as four points over George Mason (2-5) in the first set of the match. The Mids held an 11-7 advantage before the Patriots tied the frame at 12-12 on their way to taking a 19-13 lead over Navy and winning the opening frame.
The second set saw a reversal of fortunes for the two teams. This time it was George Mason that let an early four-point lead -- 11-7 -- slip away from it. After first closing to within one point of the home team at 11-10, the Mids were able to knot the score at 15-15 on a kill by Cassel. A kill by Fortner followed by another kill from Cassel to close out a 6-1 run for the Mids that gave them a 17-15 lead.
That Navy lead was a short-lived one as the Patriots notched the ensuing two points to tie the score at 17 points apiece. The score would again be tied at 18-18, 21-21 and 22-22 when a service error by George Mason's Lana Zonjic returned the serve back to Navy with a 23-22 lead. The lead would double when Cassel produced a kill to take Navy to set point. A kill by George Mason's Meredith Bush extended the set and sliced Navy's lead down to 24-23, but Fortner knocked down a kill for Navy's set-clinching 25th point.
"You could see a lot of fortitude in the faces of our players in that second set," said Bock.
Navy carried that momentum into the start of the third set. The Mids put the first three points of the frame on the scoreboard and soon held a 6-1 lead. The Navy advantage would soon be chipped down to a pair of points on several instances, including at 11-9. A block by Katie Sylakowski (Fr., Escondido, Calif.), a block by the tandem of Sylakowski and Fortner and a service ace by setter Alex Karika (Fr., Cranberry Township, Pa.) quickly gave Navy a 14-9 lead. That cushion would rapidly grow to 17-11 and then 21-13 before the Mids picked up the win in the set.
The fourth set would see both teams go on extended runs before the Mids settled down to record the victory in both the set and the match.
George Mason ran off the opening four points of the set on its way to taking a 10-7 lead. Navy not only scored the next three points to tie the set at 10-10, it would score the next five points, as well, to build a 15-10 lead. The Mids would build six-point cushions at both 18-12 and 19-13 before the Patriots stormed back into the set. George Mason tallied the next two points to make the score 19-15 then, after a kill by Cassel, scored the next four points to close to within one point of Navy at 20-19.
Karika and Cassel combined for a block to return the serve to Navy's side of the court. That was followed by a George Mason attack error that boosted Navy's lead to 22-19. Ewert then tallied a service ace to make the score 23-19 in favor of the Mids. Back-to-back attack errors by George Mason then allowed the Mids to finish out the set -- and the match -- with a 5-0 run.
Navy's offense produced 51 kills and hit .179 in the match, while its defense allowed George Mason to finish the evening with 45 kills and a .137 hitting percentage. The Mids also held slim statistical advantages over the Patriots in aces (8-5) and digs (59-52), with George Mason narrowing winning the battle of the blockers (8.0-6.0).
Fortner recorded her second double-double on the four-match weekend with 16 kills and 11 digs against George Mason. Cassel put together a potential breakout match consisting of not only a career-high 13 kills, but also a .600 attack percentage that featured just one attack error on 20 swings. Additionally on offense, Karika distributed the ball around so that five players recorded at least 10 attempts in the match to help her tally 40 assists.
"We received a lot of production from our middles and right-side hitters," said Bock, "and that geography was important to take some of the load off of our left side. I thought Alex was a very steady presence with that for us."
In addition to Fortner's 11 digs, Navy's defense was paced by Ewert with 15 digs and Rapp with 13, while Sylakowski finished the night with four blocks.
Zonjic was the lone George Mason player to record double figures in kills. She finished the match with 15 kills.
Navy's match against the Patriots was the second of the day for the Mids. The final day of the two-day invite began with Navy losing a 25-20, 25-21, 25-14 decision to a South Carolina team that would go undefeated in four matches on the weekend (won 12 of the 13 sets it played) to improve its record on the young season to 8-0.
"I thought much of how we played against George Mason was the result of how well the whole team played against South Carolina," said Bock. "That effort and energy and precision really carried over for us from the morning match to the evening one."
The Gamecocks quickly jumped out to a 9-3 lead over the Mids in the opening set and soon built a 19-11 cushion. Navy was able to close to within four points of South Carolina on two occasions -- 23-19 and 24-20 -- before a final kill by Christina Glover ended the opening set.
Set number two also saw South Carolina take an early lead only to see that cushion dwindle as the set progressed. The Gamecocks held an early 9-4 lead that grew to 18-11 before the Mids sliced the gap down to three points at 24-21. However, a Navy attack error on the ensuing play would allow South Carolina to win the second set.
Navy put together a much better start to the third set than it had in either of the first two frames. The Mids held an early 4-2 lead before a 7-1 run gave the Gamecocks a 9-5 advantage. The South Carolina lead remained slim at 14-10 when they ran off four of the next five points to take an 18-11 lead on its way to closing out the match.
"Our players hung in there, even with our using a lot of different lineups" said Bock. "What was most consistent for us was our ability to sideout. We faced another good team today in South Carolina, but they were never really able to go on any extended runs to completely pull away from us. We did a good job with the quality of our swings, and that started with solid play from our setters. From a quality standpoint, it was a positive match for us."
South Carolina led Navy in nearly every statistic, including kills (39-28), hitting percentage (.300-.078) and blocks (7.0-1.0). Individually, Ewert and Fortner both recorded five kills for the Mids, with Rapp grabbing a team-high six digs. Conversely, South Carolina's offense was led by Maddie Frome with seven kills.
Navy will remain in the region for the third week in a row when the Mids play Air Force, The Citadel and Denver this coming weekend at The Pentagon in Arlington, Va.