Oct. 13, 2012
LEWISBURG, Pa. - A balanced effort on both offense and defense led the Navy volleyball team to a three-set victory -- 25-19, 25-19, 25-18 -- over Bucknell Saturday evening at Davis Gym in Lewisburg, Pa.
The win gives Navy a 4-3 record in Patriot League play (8-11 overall) at the halfway point of the league campaign. The Midshipmen are in a three-way tie for third place in the league standings, with only the top-four teams at the end of the season qualifying for the Patriot league Tournament.
Colgate ended the first half of the season alone in first place with a 7-0 record, while Army enters a Saturday night match against Lafayette in second place with a mark of 5-1. Navy, American and Lehigh are all tied for third place with identical records of 4-3 (Navy lost to American and defeated Lehigh, with both matches lasting five sets). The fifth-place Leopards have a 2-4 record heading into tonight's match at West Point, Holy Cross is in sixth place with a 1-6 record and Bucknell finished the opening half of the league season winless in seven matches.
The last time Navy posted a winning record in the first half of the league season was when the Mids also tallied a 4-3 mark in 2007. That also was the last season a Navy team advanced to the league tournament.
Additionally, the Saturday's result marked the first Navy road three-set victory in a league match since also sweeping Bucknell on the final weekend of the 2009 season.
"We officially cannot sneak up on anyone," said Navy head coach Larry Bock of the team's strong start. "We may have done that a couple of times this season, but we also are continuing to develop and improve as a team."
Bucknell (6-16 overall) held a 5-4 lead over Navy early in the first set when a Bison service error tied the score. Katie Sylakowski (Fr., Escondido, Calif.) toed the service line for the Mids and promptly dropped in an ace to give Navy a lead it would not relinquish for the remainder of the frame. Setter Alex Karika (Fr., Cranberry Township, Pa.) tallied assists on consecutive kills from Alex Cassel (So., Sandy, Utah), Erin Fortner (Jr., Villa Hills, Ky.) and Carolyn Ewert (Sr., Bakersfield, Calif.) to expand the Navy cushion out to 9-5. Next, Fortner and Cassel combined on a block for what would prove to be the final point in a 6-0 run by Navy. The Mids would hold a lead of at least four points and by as many as seven points -- 13-6, 24-17 -- on their way to claiming the first set.
The Bison scored four of the opening five points of the second set and quickly took leads of 10-5 and 12-8 over the Mids. Just as in the first set, a Bucknell service error sparked a Navy run. This time Karika dropped back with the Mids down by the score of 12-9. She first set Sylakowski for the kill, then Sylakowski and Olivia Yeager
(Fr., Lutz, Fla.) combined for a block to pull the Mids to within one point. The tandem of Sylakowski and Fortner followed with a block to knot the score at 12-12.
Karika returned the serve to Bucknell with a service error of her own, but Sylakowski knocked down another kill to tie the score at 13-13. A Fortner kill was followed by a Bucknell attack error to give Navy a 15-13 lead. First Bucknell and then Navy notched kills (16-14), then Cassel and Fortner joined forces for a block to make the score 17-14. Another Bucknell attack error ensued that gave the Mids an 18-14 cushion. The Navy lead would hover between two and four points until a kill by Cassel gave Navy a 23-18 advantage. A Bucknell attack error took the Mids to set point, but a Yeager attack error followed to return the serve to the Bison. Navy successfully sided-out and closed out the set when Sylakowski posted a kill to end the next point.
Navy never trailed in the third set, but the frame was close through most of it. The Mids tried to separate themselves from the Bison by taking leads of 11-7 and 13-9, but Bucknell quickly went on a 4-0 run to tie the score at 13-13. A Fortner kill, a Sylakowski kill and a Ewert kill gave the Mids a 16-13 cushion. Bucknell immediately sliced two points off of its three-point deficit, but a Ewert kill and an ace from Sylakowski made the score 18-15 in favor of Navy. After a kill from the Bison, Cassel posted a kill and Fortner added a service ace for Navy's 19th and 20th points, respectively, of the set. Bucknell winnowed the margin down to three points at both 20-17 and 21-18, but a Bison attack error gave the Mids a 22-18 lead. Yeager tallied a kill, Bucknell posted another attack error and Sylakowski recorded a solo block to give the Mids the last three points of the 79-minute match.
"We were able to weather every storm Bucknell threw at us," said Bock. "They are a good, athletic team whose record belies how well they have played the top teams in the league this fall. To win in three sets on the road in the league is very hard to do. This was by no means an easy match."
In Friday's 3-0 loss by the Mids at Colgate, both teams hit just .114. Today, Navy held Bucknell's offense to a hitting percentage of .135 while posting an attack percentage of .243 itself. The Mids recorded 16, 15 and 15 kills, respectively, in the three sets, while limiting the Bison to 12, 8 and 9 kills, respectively, in the three frames. The 46 kills posted by the Mids ranks second on the entire season in a three-set match to the 47 kills Navy accrued in sweeping Holy Cross.
"Today's match was much more emblematic of the way we practiced this week than our match last night was," said Bock. "It was a very workmanlike effort. We passed very well and were able to get good swings off of our digs. Last night we didn't control the digs as well as we did today. Having a solid transition game like we did today just opens up so many more options for an offense."
Navy also held statistical advantages over Bucknell in service aces (7-2), digs (46-33) and blocks (5.0-4.0).
Cassel put together a strong match as she recorded 12 kills, a .556 attack percentage and two blocks. Joining her in double figures was Fortner, who posted 10 kills and added three blocks of her own. The offensive balance continued throughout the Navy lineup as Ewert had nine kills, Sylakowski eight kills and Yeager six kills. Also, Fortner and Sylakowski each contributed a pair of service aces, Sylakowski recorded three blocks and Christy Rapp (Sr., Royal Oak, Mich.) snared a match-high 15 digs. Additionally, both Karika and Loomis finished the match with eight digs.
"Our middles really got going today," said Bock, "both offensively and defensively. And Erin is such a force out there that opposing teams have to account for her on every play. That also opens things up for us and Alex Karika did a good job of moving the ball around. It also was nice to see both Alex Cassel and Christy bounce back the way they did today after each had tough outings Friday."
Bucknell was led in kills by Claire Healy with 13.
Navy will open the second half of the Patriot League season next weekend with matches at Holy Cross (Oct. 19) and at Army (Oct. 20).