Nov. 9, 2012
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- In a match filled with momentum swings, the Navy volleyball team found a way to gain the advantage late and rally from a 2-1 deficit in sets to defeat Bucknell Friday night at the Wesley A. Brown Field House in Annapolis. The Mids won the opening set by the score of 25-15, the Bison claimed sets two and three by the identical count of 25-21, Navy posted a 25-15 win in the fourth set before the Mids won set number five by the score of 15-10.
"It was a match of runs," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "If we play seven sets, Bucknell may have won. We just were fortunate enough to have our runs at the right time, the end of the match.
"This is the first time we won a lengthy match with this much back-and-forth taking place. Being able to win a match like this is the sign of a maturing team. They were able to reach down a little bit, adjust tactically, adjust technically and find some energy.
Despite the victory, Navy's season will come to a close Saturday at 2 p.m. when the Midshipmen play host to Colgate. Navy, 7-6 in Patriot League play (11-14 overall) heading into the finale, needed Holy Cross to defeat Lehigh to have any hope of advancing into the league tournament. The Mountain Hawks defeated the Crusaders in four sets Friday night to clinch the fourth and final berth into the postseason. Navy is assured of placing fifth in the league, which is the highest finish for the Mids since finishing in a tie for fifth place in 2008.
Navy's mark of 7-6 comes one year after the Mids won just one league match and after a three-year span where Navy won just five league matches. The improvement of six wins from one year to the next is the most for any program in Patriot League history.
The Mids took control of the first set about halfway through the frame. Navy held just a 10-9 lead over Bucknell (3-10 in the league, 9-19 overall) before a 10-3 run gave the Mids a 20-12 advantage. The Mids hit a sizzling .481 in winning the set and held the Bison to a mark of just .179. Navy tallied a sideout on 12 of Bucknell's 16 serves.
The course of the match quickly changed at the very start of the second set. The Bison quickly scored six of the first seven points of the set to take control early. Navy whittled the margin down to one point at 10-9 before Bucknell opened it up again to six points at 15-9, 16-10 and 17-11. The Mids chipped away at the deficit and soon tied the score at 18-18. However, back-to-back Bucknell points gave it a 20-18 lead. The teams would trade points until a kill by Claire Healy gave the Bison a three-point lead at 22-19. Navy sliced two points off of the gap on a kill from Alex Cassel
(So., Sandy, Utah) and a Bucknell attack error, but a Navy service error and consecutive kills from Morgan Mientus closed out the set for the Bison.
Bucknell would hit .333 in the second set to Navy's .171, then the Bison posted a mark of .429 to .303 for the Mids in the third set. The score in the third set would be tied 10 times, with what would prove to be the final time at 16-16. Bucknell broke open the frame by tallying the ensuing five points to take a 21-16 lead. Navy could climb no closer than to within three points at 22-19 and 24-21 before the Bison finished out the set.
"We were trying to figure out where the changes occurred, why there was such a turn of momentum after the first set," said Bock.
Navy found its rhythm again in the early part of the fourth set. The Mids went on a 6-1 run to turn a 4-4 tie into an 11-5 Navy lead, then extended the lead out to seven points at 13-3 and nine points at 17-8. Navy would soon take a 20-10 advantage on its way to winning the set and forcing a fifth set.
Bucknell held an early 3-2 lead in the set when a kill by Erin Fortner (Jr., Villa Hills, Ky.) tied the score at 3-3 and gave the serve back to the Mids. J.B. Loomis (So., Havertown, Pa.) dropped back to the service line and promptly helped the Mids account for the next five points and take an 8-3 lead. Fortner and Katie Sylakowski (Fr., Coronado, Calif.) first teamed for a block, then Carolyn Ewert (Sr., Bakersfield, Calif.) notched a kill to give Navy a 5-3 lead. A Fortner kill would make the score 6-3 and force a Bucknell timeout. Navy carried its momentum through the stoppage of play as Ewert notched kills on each of the next two points to give Navy an 8-3 lead as the teams switched sides of the court.
A kill from Bucknell's Kristen Titley stopped Navy's run, but a kill from Sylakowski and another one from Fortner gave Navy a 10-4 lead. The Navy lead would soon be 11-7 on a kill from Fortner before Bucknell made one last run at the Mids. Two Bucknell kills were followed by a service error by the Bison (12-8), then two miscues with the ball on Navy's side of the net made the score just 12-10 in favor of the Mids. Navy setter Alex Karika (Fr., Cranberry Township, Pa.) would record a kill of her own on the next point to give the Mids a three-point lead, then Christy Rapp (Sr., Royal Oak, Mich.), who notched the assist on Karika's kill, dropped in a service ace to take Navy to match point. The nearly two-hour match would end when Karika and Sylakowski combined for a block.
"We are used to winning the long rallies," said Bock, "but that was not the case tonight. Bucknell controlled the net. They also played hard. We had a lot of energy in the first set, but then we looked tired. Some of that was because Bucknell was making us look tired.
"It was a fun match to coach. I don't think either team played defense real well. A lot of credit goes to to Bucknell. They are clearly a much improved team since we first saw them (when Navy won in three sets at Bucknell one month ago)."
Navy hit over .300 in every set but the second and ended the match with a mark of .303. Bucknell would hit just .133 and .143 in the fourth and fifth sets, respectively, and hit .261 for the full match. Helping Navy to the advantage in hitting percentage were the Mids tallying 11 service aces to just two for the Bison and finishing with a 68-55 advantage in digs.
Fortner seemed to make a big play whenever the Mids needed one. She had several extended serving runs that were aided by three aces, notched a match-high 18 kills, hit .267, finished one dig shy of a double-double, dished out three assists and recorded a pair of blocks.
"We were setting Erin front row, back row, everywhere," said Bock. "She had real broad shoulders tonight. She was just a stud for us. Everyone in the gym knew she was getting the ball, but she kept putting it away. A real terrific match for her."
Fortner was one of four Mids to reach double figures in kills. Cassel recorded 13 kills and hit .364, Ewert posted 12 kills and hit .290, and Sylakowski tallied 10 kills and just one error on 21 swings for an attack percentage of .429. That offensive balance was due in no small part to Karika spreading out the Navy offense so five players had at least 20 swings. She would end up with 56 assists to go along with three blocks and three kills. Defensively, Rapp snared a Navy-high 18 digs with Loomis pulling in 13 digs.
"We received key contributions from our bench in tonight's win," said Bock. "Caroline Jacobs (Jr., Arnold, Md.) and Maeve Drummey (Fr., Silver Spring, Md.) were instrumental tonight. What those two did in sets four and five were big. Caroline was serving rockets, and Maeve was just solid for us. She played like a veteran. She made one huge dig in set four that was a turning point."
Mientus led Bucknell's offense with 14 kills, while Leylin Marroquin grabbed a match-high 25 digs.
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