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Volleyball Prepares for Matches at Holy Cross and Army

Alex Karika

Oct. 10, 2013

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy volleyball team will take to the road for a pair of matches this weekend as the Mids will play Friday at Holy Cross and Saturday at Army. Friday's match in Worcester, Mass., will begin at 7 p.m., with Saturday's Star Match in West Point, N.Y. scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. start.

Live video from Friday's match at Holy Cross will be available for free on via the Patriot League Digital Network, while video from Saturday's match at Army will be provided for the cost of $9.95. Additionally, links to free live statistics from both matches will be available at

Navy dropped the lone match it played last week, losing in four sets to Colgate. The Mids opened the match by winning the first set by the score of 25-23, but then lost the next three by counts of 25-22, 26-24 and 25-19, respectively. The loss saw Navy's record in league play fall to 2-2 and its overall record drop to 6-9.

"We are just short of Pollyanna in our assessment of last weekend," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "Our performance was good, but our result was not. Realistically, our results will be a by-product of how we play. If we keep playing at the trajectory we are on, our performance will be fine. We have some people taking giant swings at the ball and have seen our blocking start to have an impact on the rest of our game."

The Mids rank around the middle of the Patriot League in almost every statistical category during the league season, except for blocks in which Navy leads the league with an average of 2.57 blocks per set. The other rankings show the Mids third in opponent hitting percentage (.177), fourth in assists (12.79 aps) and kills (13.43 kps), and fifth in hitting percentage (.225), aces (1.57 saps) and digs (15.43 dps).

"Our blocking really has come out of nowhere," said Bock. "We have simplified things since the start of the year by going back to a traditional system. We still have pinch reads and swing blocking in our treasure chest, so we will use those when situations demand it. For right now, it seems our bread-and-butter has been old-school blocking."



Individually, both Erin Fortner (Sr., Villa Hills, Ky.) and Alli Graf (Fr., Annapolis, Md.) rank among the league leaders in a pair of statistics through the opening weeks of the league campaign. Fortner leads the league in kills (4.14 kps) and ranks 10th in hitting percentage (.324), while Graf stands third in both aces (0.50 saps) and digs (4.93 dps). Alex Karika (So., Cranberry Township, Pa.) ranks fourth for Navy in assists (11.07 aps), while Alex Cassel (Jr., Sandy, Utah) and Katie Sylakowski (So., Escondido, Calif.) rank second (1.21 bps) and sixth (1.00 bps), respectively, in blocking.

"We are a real deep team," said Bock. "It may not show up in competition, but where it really shows is in our practice gym. Some of our best matches have come when there is not a crowd watching. I'd put our second group up against the second group of the rest of the league. These players are the real heart of this team."

Holy Cross has compiled a 1-4 record in Patriot League matches this season and has tallied a 6-11 record on the full season. The Crusaders opened league play this year with a win over Bucknell (3-0) before dropping consecutive matches to Lehigh (3-0), Colgate (3-0), American (3-0) and Loyola (3-1). Half of the sets the Crusaders have played against league foes (8 of 16) and over half of their sets on the full season (35 of 60) have been decided by five or fewer points. Holy Cross has posted records of 4-4 during league play and 18-17 on the full season in sets determined by no more than five points. This includes their most recent outing against Bryant, a five-set defeat for the Crusaders in which three sets they lost were decided by a total of six points.

The Crusaders are averaging 10.12 kills per set and hitting .110 as a team in league play. Defensively, Holy Cross is allowing opponents 14.94 kills per set and a hitting percentage of .237. Natalie Welsch is pacing the Holy Cross offense with an average of 2.69 kills per set, while Emily Popp is hauling in a team-high 4.62 digs per set. Additional statistical leaders for the Crusaders are Hannah Grace Stoles at 0.62 aces per set and Mary-Kate Short with an average of 1.18 blocks per set.

"Holy Cross is a much improved team this year," said Bock. "That is obvious with how tough they have played people, and is really magnified when they play at home. Friday night will be two hours of really tough volleyball."

Navy posted a pair of victories over Holy Cross during the 2012 season to end skids by the Mids of six-straight losses in league matches to the Crusaders and three-straight defeats in Worcester. The Mids first recorded a 25-19, 25-19, 25-13 win in Annapolis before tallying a 25-22, 25-19, 25-21 victory in Worcester.

Fortner recorded a Navy-high 13 kills in the first match of the year for the Mids against Holy Cross, then knocked down 12 kills in the second contest. Also reaching double figures in kills in the second match was Olivia Yeager (So., Lutz, Fla.) with 10.

Emily Oliver led Holy Cross in kills in both matches against Navy last year. She first notched eight kills (and hit .250) before posting 10 kills and a .364 attack percentage in the latter match.

Army enters a Friday night match against Lafayette with a 4-1 mark against league opponents and a 7-8 record overall this fall. After starting the league season with wins over Lehigh (3-2) and Bucknell (3-0), the Black Knights lost in four sets to Colgate. They then rebounded to defeat both Loyola (3-2) and American (3-1) on the road last weekend.

Army holds a narrow advantage over its league foes in kills this season (12.43-12.24 kps), and is being outhit by an equally slim margin (.201-.193). Helping the efforts of the Black Knights has been their serving. Army is averaging 1.71 service aces per set and 1.67 service errors per set, while its foes are averaging 1.00 aces and 1.95 errors from the service line per set.

Margaux Jarka is one of a trio of Army players to be averaging over 2.00 kills per set. She is pacing the team with an average of 3.10 kills per set, while Megan Wilton ranks second on the team with a mark of 2.81 kills per set. Setters Mary Vaccaro and Vanessa Edwards have both dished out 109 assists against league foes, while D.J. Phee leads Army in both aces (0.43 saps) and digs (4.14 dps).

"Army is coming off of a huge win at American," said Bock, "and we have to be certain they are looking forward to playing us in their gym. We will go into the match with our eyes open and ready for long rallies."

The Black Knights defeated Navy in both meetings between the teams last season. Army recorded a 25-19, 28-30, 25-16, 25-13 win over the Mids on The Yard and a 25-15, 25-22, 26-24 win in West Point. The decisions extended Army's overall winning streak against Navy to six in a row overall and to seven in a row in matches played in West Point.

Both Fortner and Cassel reached 10 kills in Navy's first match against Army during the 2012 season, with Cassel also recording 10 blocks on the night. The second match saw Fortner notch a double-double of 11 kills and 10 digs.

Jarka led Army in kills in both matches against Navy a year ago with her performances of 16 and 11 kills, respectively.

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