Navy Volleyball Sweeps Army to Advance to Tournament Final
WASHINGTON, D.C. –– The Navy volleyball team led Army West Point for all but three points of a three-set victory by the Midshipmen (23-7) over the Black Knights (18-12) Saturday evening at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C., in the semifinal round of the Patriot League Tournament. The 25-15, 25-15, 25-22 victory by No. 2 Navy over No. 3 Army sends the Mids into Sunday’s championship match where they will face top-seeded American.
Navy is playing in its first tournament final since 1999 and has never won the tournament, while American, which defeated No. 4 Lehigh in three sets in the day’s first semifinal, has appeared in the championship match each year since it joined the Patriot League in 2001 and has claimed all but two titles (2009, ’12) in that 16-year span.
Navy and American will meet at 3 p.m. Sunday in Bender Arena, with the winner earning the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“It means a lot to us to bring Navy to the championship match again,” Navy team captain and 2017 First-Team All-Patriot League honoree Tara Dotzauer (Sr., Raleigh, N.C.). “We want to be proud of what we have accomplished, but we also have a lot left to go. It is going to take reflection and preparation tonight to get ready to go out and play even harder tomorrow.”
“This just shows all of the effort we have put in,” said Patricia Mattingly (Jr., New Albany, Ind.). “Since our seniors were freshmen, we have just been putting in work and work. This is the point it led up to. We always told ourselves we were going to get here.”
Army and Navy played a pair of close matches this season, with the Black Knights defeating the Mids in five sets in West Point in October and Navy defeated Army in five sets in Annapolis Sunday. Eight of those 10 sets were decided by no more than five points, including five that were determined by three or fewer points
The only times the Mids didn’t lead the Black Knights today came at 1-0, 1-1 and 2-2 in the first set.
“On Sunday we were trying to close out the regular season and today we were trying to start anew,” said Dotzauer. “We wanted to come out with the highest intensity we could today.
“Today was really different than our previous playoff appearances in that we didn’t start well in any of the sets,” said Navy head coach Larry Bock, who accepted the 2017 Patriot League Coach-of-the-Year award with his staff prior to the start of the match. “I don’t think the starts today had anything to do with coaching. Our players were just really tuned in. A couple of those really long rallies in the first two sets, we won those which was really important.”
Navy would go on to take first set leads of 10-4, 14-6 and 18-7 in winning the opening set. The Mids totaled only one more kill than the Black Knights did in the first set (12-11), but Navy committed only two attack errors to 10 for the Army. That gave the Mids a .286-.026 advantage in hitting percentage in the set.
Navy carried that momentum over into the second set as it scored the opening three points of the frame. Army closed to within one point at 3-2, but a kill by Dotzauer doubled the lead and sent Maddi Sgattoni (Fr., Pittsburgh, Pa.) back to the service line. Her last effort to trigger a play was with the Mids holding a 10-2 lead. The Black Knights tried to climb back into it as they closed to within five points a couple of times, with the last coming at 16-11. Navy quickly notched the ensuing four points to build a 20-11 advantage.
The Mids upped their hitting in the second stanza to a robust .296 while their defense shut down the attack for the Black Knights as they tallied six kills and nine errors on 31 attempts for a (-).097 hitting percentage in the set.
Navy has struggled in the third set of matches all season long, but the Mids stormed out to a 3-0 lead at the start of the third set today. Two of those points came on kills of second-team all-league performer Katie Patrick (Jr., Aurora, Colo.), and she would add two more in helping Navy out to a 6-2 lead.
The margin between the teams teetered between being comfortable and uncomfortable for the Mids. The cushion would be three points (7-4), six points (12-6), four points (14-10) and six points (18-12) before being winnowed down to three points at 19-16, which led to a Navy timeout. When play resumed, the lead was extended out to 21-16 before being reduced back to three points at 22-19, which led to Bock calling a second stoppage in play.
Army came up with a block after the break to slice the gap down to 22-20, but an attack error by the Black Knights gave the Mids a three-point lead. Army answered with a sideout (23-21), with Navy reaching match point on a kill by Sgattoni. The Black Knights erased one chance for the Mids to win the match on a Navy attack error, but then a kill by team captain Dotzauer sent the Mids into the finals.
Navy totaled 38 kills and just 11 attack errors in the nearly 90-minute match, while it allowed Army 29 kills but forced the Black Knights into 24 attack errors. That gave the Mids a .257-.046 advantage in hitting percentage in the match.
Also, Navy scored 39 points on its 73 serves in the match while limiting Army to 19 points on its 55 serves.
“We served the ball really hard and passed well today,” said Bock. “I don’t think Army was able to get into their first swing offense that is so good. It is the best first swing offense in the league. I think our serving had a little something to do with keeping them out of system. We passed well enough to run an offense.”
Take away the hitting numbers and the rest of the statistics between the teams were very similar as Navy held slim leads in aces (7-4), digs (46-43) and blocks (6-3).
The best player on the court in the match was Mattingly. The 2016 and ’17 Patriot League Setter of the Year –– as well as 2016 and ’17 league scholar-athlete of the year for the sport –– dished out 26 assists, shared the Navy lead with 10 digs, finished one behind the Navy attack leaders with six kills, and the 5-8 Hoosier even recorded a solo block.
“I think we came into this match really following the game plan,” said Mattingly. “Everyone knew exactly what to do. Starting with Sydney Shearn (Jr., Louisville, Ky.) and the back row defense. They had some great passes and that made running the offense that much easier. And then our hitters adjusted well to the blocks and just swung.”
“Above and beyond Patricia’s numbers,” said Bock, “she is just real cerebral, competitive. Most of the time she makes the right decisions. It is her offense. She is a combination quarterback-offensive coordinator. That intellect and amazing mind comes out on the volleyball court. But today, what also made her look that good was our passing.”
“Amazing,” is how Dotzauer described Mattingly’s play today. “It is awesome to be on the court with her. She has great energy and brings everyone up. She is all over the place. Everyone has the utmost confidence in her.”
Three Mids totaled a team-high seven kills in the contest. Sgattoni notched seven kills to go along with three aces and eight digs, Maggie Phillips (Sr., Leesburg, Va.) recorded seven kills, and Sarena Seelbach (So., Chapel Hill, N.C.) totaled seven kills and zero attack errors on 15 swings (.467). Dotzauer also joined Mattingly with six kills, Shearn shared the dig lead with Mattingly with her 10 digs and Patrick registered five kills and three blocks.
“The left antenna got going for us,” said Bock. “Maggie had a really good match and that took some pressure off some of the other parts of the offense.”
The Mids defeated the Eagles in four sets in Annapolis and held a 2-0 lead in in sets during the rematch in Washington, D.C., before losing in five sets.
“We will be playing another big, powerful team tomorrow,” said Bock. “I think it was really good that we played Army and did well today. That will prepare us for the firepower we will see tomorrow. The speed of the game, the pace of the ball, the trajectories will be very similar tomorrow as what we saw today. American is in their own house. That have been in the final match forever. We’re just sort of looking around thinking this is cool. In the next couple of hours we have to get ready to be total competitors.”