Sept. 13, 2013
CINCINNATI, Ohio -- Playing a mere 15 miles from her hometown, senior team captain Erin Fortner (Villa Hills, Ky.) led the Navy volleyball team in a three-set win over tournament-host Cincinnati and a five-set loss to Northern Kentucky Friday in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Mids posted a 25-20, 25-19, 25-22 win over the Bearcats before falling to the Norse, 25-19, 13-25, 25-15, 22-25, 15-8.
"Our `to-do' list continues to get shorter and shorter with matches like we played today," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "There was a lot of really good volleyball out there today."
In the first match of the day, the Bearcats (0-8) jumped out to an early 7-3 lead over the Mids and still remained in front by as many as four points at 15-11. Navy ran off the next five points to take a 16-15 lead before allowing Cincinnati to tally the next three points and regain the advantage at 18-16. Middle hitters Alex Cassel (Jr., Sandy, Utah) and Katie Sylakowski (So., Escondido, Calif.) knocked down consecutive kills to tie the score at 18-18. An attack error by the Bearcats gave the Mids a one-point lead (19-18), which quickly became two points (20-18) on a kill from Sylakowski. Two more Cincinnati attack errors were sandwiched around a kill by Erin Fortner (Sr., Villa Hills, Ky.) to extend Navy's run of points to seven and its lead to 23-18. The teams played sideout volleyball the remainder of the set.
Navy also went on a 7-0 run midway through the second set to separate itself from Cincinnati. The Bearcats held a 14-13 lead when Cassel notched a kill to tie the score (14-14). Sylakowski and Alex Karika (So., Cranberry Township, Pa.) combined on back-to-back blocks to give the Mids a 17-14 lead, then a hitting error by the Bearcats pushed Navy's margin out to four points (18-14). Alli Graf (Fr., Annapolis, Md.) dropped in a kill, then another attack error by Cincinnati gave Navy a 19-14 lead. Fortner proceeded to record a kill to make the score 20-14 in favor of Navy. The teams again played pretty much sideout volleyball the rest of the way as the Mids took a 2-0 lead in sets.
The third set would see the lead change hands seven times and the score tied at 12 different instances. The score was tied at 20-20 when it was broken by a Fortner kill. Raena Borcuk
(Fr., Twin Peaks, Calif.) followed with an ace to make it a two-point margin, then Sylakowski teamed with Olivia Yeager
(So., Lutz, Fla.) for a block to make the score 23-20. A Cincinnati attack error took the Mids to match point at 24-20, but a block followed by a kill by the Bearcats shrunk Navy's lead down to 24-22. The Mids would win the match on a Cincinnati hitting error.
"We had an awkward start, but we gathered ourselves pretty quickly," said Bock. "Cincinnati is still `Cincinnati' with a great tradition. To win a match, on their home floor and in three sets; that's a fairly large win for us. We earned every point we scored against a really good team."
Navy hit a healthy .286 in the match on 43 kills and just 13 errors on 105 attempts. That was in contrast to Cincinnati, which posted 35 kills and 26 attack errors in 118 attempts for a hitting percentage of .076. Helping the Mids to this advantage was their 10 team blocks while the Bearcats recorded just 5 blocks of their own.
Fortner just missed a double-double as she finished the match with 13 kills and nine digs. She also contributed a pair of blocks to Navy's effort. Pacing the Mids in blocks were Karika and Cassel, both of whom tallied five blocks, and Sylakowski, who posted four blocks. Cassel also recorded eight kills and a .333 hitting percentage, Sylakowski notched seven kills and hit .538, while Karika dished out 36 assists and snared six digs. Leading Navy's passers were Graf with 14 digs and McKenzie Bailey (Fr., Dublin, Ohio) with 11 digs.
Cincinnati's Me'Ashah Nicholson, Ciara Hill and Amelia Wegman all posted eight kills in the match.
Northern Kentucky (3-4), which posted a 25-7 record last year and was playing its first match of the day, built an early 9-3 lead in the first set. Navy (4-6) struggled to dent into its deficit throughout the remainder of the set.
The Mids held a slim 7-5 lead early in the second set before scoring nine of the next 10 points to take a 16-6 advantage. Fortner had a hand in four of those nine points as she posted a pair of kills and a pair of block assists during the run. Navy's lead would grow to as large as 13 points at 22-9 before the Mids evened the match at one set apiece.
The Norse would take control of the third set during the midpoint of the frame. Northern Kentucky first used a 3-0 run to take a 16-11 lead then, after Navy winnowed the margin down to three points at 18-15, the Norse tallied the next seven points to win the set.
Northern Kentucky also had leads of 13-11 and 18-16 in the fourth set, only this time Navy answered by tying the score at 18-18. Back-to-back points for the Norse gave them a 20-18 lead, which soon became 21-19 after the teams exchanged sideouts. Fortner knocked down a kill to slice the lead in half, then the Mids scored again on a Northern Kentucky error. Cassel promptly posted consecutive kills to give Navy a 23-21 lead. That was followed by a Northern Kentucky attack error that gave the Mids a 24-21 advantage. Northern Kentucky staved off one set point with a kill, but then an attack error by the Norse sent the teams into a fifth set.
The Norse quickly rattled off the first six points of the fifth set. A Navy service error was followed by a Northern Kentucky kill, then a block by the Norse and three-straight kills accounted for the points in the set-opening run. The score would soon be 7-2 in favor of Northern Kentucky when Fortner pulled the Mids back into the frame. She first posted a kill to make the score 7-3, then dropped in back-to-back service aces to make the score 7-5 and force the Norse into calling a timeout. Three-straight Navy attack errors -- the latter two accounted for on Northern Kentucky blocks -- a Norse kill, two more Navy attack errors and a Northern Kentucky kill made the score 13-6 in favor of the Norse and gave them a cushion they would not relinquish.
"We had execution problems," said Bock of Navy's play in the fifth set, "but some of that can be attributed to our backing off. We were waiting for the other team to make mistakes. We did see signs of a maturing team, though, as those instances are lasting shorter time spans."
As would be expected from a five-set, two-hour match, the statistics between the teams were very similar. Northern Kentucky posted 57 kills and a hitting percentage of .193, while Navy tallied 56 kills and hit .158. Much of the hitting disparity can be attributed to the fifth set alone where the Norse hit .353 (7 kills, 1 error, 17 attempts) and Navy hit -.130 (4-7-23). Defensively, Navy held slight leads in both digs (75-69) and bocks (10-9). Additionally, the Mids dropped in seven aces and committed six service errors, while the Norse finished the match with four aces and three service errors.
Fortner posted 18 kills in the match while hitting .279. She also snared a career-high 20 digs, had a hand in four blocks and served up a pair of aces. Meanwhile, Cassel added nine kills and four blocks, Yeager contributed eight kills, Sylakowski finished the match with five kills and five blocks and Graf matched Fortner's effort with 20 digs.
"We have been living and dying with the play of our middles, Katie and Alex Cassel," said Bock, "but it just wasn't there for them. We received some very positive play from our antenna people to help carry that load for us. Quietly, we also saw some really good play from outside hitter Gaby Smith (Fr., Virginia Beach, Va.), middle hitter Caroline Jacobs (Sr., Arnold, Md.) and setter Star Steele (So., Tampa, Fla.). Those three plugged the leaks we had; they played really tough and allowed us to extend the match."
Jenna Ruble's 15 kills led Northern Kentucky, with teammate Anna Prickel grabbing 17 digs.
For the day, Fortner averaged 3.88 kills (31 total) and 3.62 digs (29) per set, while hitting .234, leading Navy with three aces and posting six blocks.
"Erin really put the team on her shoulders today," said Bock.
Navy will close out play at the tournament Saturday with an 11:30 a.m. match against Cleveland State.