Nov. 16, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- With seniors Erin Fortner (Villa Hills, Ky.) and Caroline Jacobs (Arnold, Md.) leading the way, the Navy volleyball team closed out its 2013 season by posting a three-set -- 25-20, 25-19, 25-23 -- victory over Holy Cross Saturday afternoon at the Wesley A. Brown Field House in Annapolis.
The victory allows this year's Mids to become the first Navy team to end a Patriot League season with a winning record -- 9-7 -- since the 2007 season. It also marks the first time since the 2004 and 2005 seasons in which Navy has posted a league record of at least .500 in back-to-back campaigns. Additionally, Navy's overall victory total of 13 is the most by the Mids since the 2008 campaign.
"It has been incremental," said third-year Navy head coach Larry Bock on the development of the program when the Mids won just one league match in the 2010 (prior to is arrival) and 2011 seasons (Bock's first year). "Going back to the Navy teams preceding this one, all were standing on each other's shoulders. This team is hopefully going to be one that is also remembered for being an important foundation. This team carried a lot of bricks and put a lot of work into the foundation. Now it is up to us to keep the momentum going. These are small, but important steps."
"It is a very good way to end it (the season and her career), with having a winning record and not a .500 season," said Jacobs. "I hope the future for Navy is winning the Patriot League. It is really cool for Erin and I to see the transformation. From plebe year to now, this is definitely our best season. To be a part of that and help make that happen has been awesome."
"To end volleyball on such a great note like that with a winning league record," said Fortner. "I told the girls before the match about our record in the past and I told them we just need to have this winning record. We needed it for ourselves. Coach referenced today as being the `Battle of Midway.' He said the Battle of Midway was the turning point in World War II and he said our team was the turning point in Navy volleyball. I am just so happy to be a part of it."
Navy gave itself some breathing room in the middle of the first set, and it was just enough for the Mids to hang on to win the opening set. The score was tied at 11-11 when Alex Cassel
(Jr., Sandy, Utah) posted a kill to give the Mids the lead and the serve. Jacobs promptly tallied back-to-back kills to give Navy a 14-11 lead. The next four points would end with various Holy Cross errors, which allowed Navy to build an 18-11 lead.
Navy still held a 20-13 lead when Holy Cross started to chip away at the margin. The Mids led by six points at 23-17 when a 3-0 run by the Crusaders made it a three-point difference on the scoreboard. That led to a Navy timeout. A Holy Cross service error took the Mids to set point, which they converted on an ace by Alex Karika (So., Cranberry Township, Pa.).
The Mids used a 5-0 run in the middle part of the second set to take a 14-9 lead, and were able to maintain at least a three-point lead over the remainder of the set to take a 2-0 advantage in frames.
The Crusaders cleaned up their play greatly in the third set and it showed on the scoreboard. Navy held an early 8-4 lead before a 6-0 run by Holy Cross gave it a 10-8 advantage. The visitors continued their strong play as they crept out to a 17-10 lead. Holy Cross still held an 18-12 lead when the Mids made their move. Olivia Yeager (So., Lutz, Fla.) started the run with a kill and that allowed Fortner to drop back to serve. Yeager and Jacobs combined for a kill to make the score 18-14, then a Holy Cross hitting error made it a three-point difference.
After a Holy Cross timeout, the Crusaders committed another attack error, which was followed by another Yeager kill to pull Navy to within one point at 18-17. The teams exchanged sideouts over the ensuing four points to make the score 20-19 in favor of Holy Cross. A Navy service error gave the Crusaders a two-point lead, and then a kill by Holy Cross gave it a 22-19 advantage.
Katie Sylakowski (So., Escondido, Calif.) posted a kill for Navy's 20th point, then Fortner tallied a kill of her own to make it a one-point set. Karika promptly dropped in a service ace to tie the score at 22-22 and lead to a Holy Cross timeout. The Mids went back to Fortner and she answered with a kill to give Navy a 23-22 lead. Sylakowski notched another kill to take the Mids to match point with a 24-22 lead. A bad set on the Mids allowed Holy Cross to close to within one point and lead to Bock calling Navy's second and final timeout of the frame.
The Mids dug the Holy Cross serve and Karika went straight to Fortner for a swing. Her attempt was gathered in by the Crusaders, but the ensuing Holy Cross swing for the point was snared by the Mids. Karika again fed Fortner and this time her 15th attempt in the set, 33rd attempt of the match, 959th attempt of the season and 2,786 attempt of her career fell to the floor amongst the Holy Cross defenders. It was her sixth kill of the set, 11th kill of the match, 341st kill of her season and the 1,015 kill of her career.
"That (going to Fortner on the last point) was all planned by Coach Tim Smith," said Bock. "She was getting every set on that last point."
"I really tried to block out a lot of emotions at the beginning because I knew it would be very hard for me," said Fortner. "At the end, that last set, I poured my heart out. I woke up this morning knowing I was going to play with everything I had in my whole heart. That last point I had tears in my eyes (when I was up) in the air. I went and landed and looked at my team and had never been so happy to be part of such a great program. I shook the hands of the (Holy Cross) girls and all I wanted to see were my teammates and give them a hug. It was very emotional. Everyone goes through a senior year, but I felt I had the best senior year I could ever have."
Fortner did not commit an attack error in her final appearance in a Navy uniform. She ends it ranked seventh at Navy for the most kills in a career. That tally is even more impressive considering she spent all of her freshman as the setter/right-side hitter in Navy's 6-2 lineup and then the first half of her sophomore season as Navy's starting setter.
Jacobs joined Fortner in having a great final match. She too did not commit an attack error and finished the afternoon with seven kills -- one shy of tying her career high -- and a .636 attack percentage, while adding three blocks.
"Caroline and Erin did it with style and skill," said Bock. "Caroline was in the stratosphere with her hitting. She played a flawless match. Caroline was superb. And Erin did it right. We really needed her that last set, and she came through for us."