Oct. 18, 2012
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy volleyball team will take to the road for the third consecutive week this weekend when the Midshipmen open the second half of the Patriot League season with matches at Army and at Holy Cross. Friday's match at West Point will start at 8 p.m., while the first serve for Saturday's match in Worcester will take place at 4 p.m.
The host school for both of Navy's matches this weekend will be providing a live video stream (for a fee) and free live statistics of the matches. Links to all of the multimedia offerings can be found at NavySports.com.
Navy enters the weekend in a tie for third place in the league standings with American and Lehigh. Each of the three programs have compiled 4-3 records and sit two wins in back of second-place Army. The Black Knights posted a 6-1 record in the first half of the league campaign, with their lone defeat coming to a first-place Colgate team that is a perfect 7-0 in league play.
Only the top four teams in the league standings at the conclusion of the regular season will advance to the Patriot League Tournament. The last time a Navy team qualified for the event was in 2007, which also was the most recent time the Mids tallied a winning record in the first half of the league season.
"We feel good about how we played to put us into the position we are in at the halfway point of the league season," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "Now, we all agree that we have to put our foot on the accelerator and continue to improve as we work to attain our goals for the end of the regular season.
"Two elements come into play in the second half of a league season. The first is physical. We want to continue our training in a way that allows us to increase our physical `pop.' The second element is technical. We have to take advantage of the knowledge we have gained from having faced our opponents once this season. There also is a shell game taking place between the coaches with what all of us have learned about our own teams and the other teams in the league from playing against one another. It is fun to coach against a league like this one is with such bright, experienced coaches. The teams that can handle these two elements the best will have huge advantages over the others."
Navy as a team ranks in the top half of the Patriot League -- in league matches -- in all offensive statistical categories but one. The Mids are third in hitting percentage (.190), third in kills (12.68 kps), fourth in assists (11.82 aps) and sixth in service aces (1.14 saps). Conversely, Navy stands fifth in opponent hitting percentage (.187), fifth in digs (15.18 dps) and sixth in blocks (1.89 bps).
Individually for Navy, Alex Karika (Fr., Cranberry Township, Pa.) leads the league in assists (10.25 aps), Erin Fortner (Jr., Villa Hills, Ky.) ranks third in kills (3.27 kps), Katie Sylakowski (Fr., Escondido, Calif.) is third in aces (0.39 saps), Alex Cassel (So., Sandy, Utah) is third in blocks (1.29 bps) and fourth in hitting percentage (.303), while Christy Rapp (Sr., Royal Oak, Mich.) is fifth in digs (4.46 dps).
Karika has already set a Navy freshman class record during the rally scoring era (since 2001) by having dished out 633 assists. That mark breaks the previous standard of 438, set by Fortner two years ago and places her second in school history amongst all freshmen behind the 1,115 helpers recorded by Jessica Van Norman in 1999.
Fortner, who played the setter / outside hitter position in Navy's 6-2 lineup as a freshman before splitting time at both spots last year as a sophomore, enters the weekend having tallied 576 kills in her career, which ranks eighth among Mids who played in the rally scoring era. She is one spot in the standings and 12 kills behind teammate Carolyn Ewert (Sr., Bakersfield, Calif.), who played only half of her freshman year before suffering a knee injury that also forced her to miss her entire sophomore campaign. Ewert ranks second on the team to Fortner and ninth in the league with her average of 2.82 kills per set.
Army leads the Patriot League in four of the seven statistics tracked by the league: hitting percentage (.227), kills (14.36 kps), assists (13.28 aps) and digs (17.56 dps). The Black Knights also have allowed opponents to hit .135 this year, which is the third-best mark in the league.
Army's Arianka Mankus and Margaux Jarks rank first and second, respectively, in the league in kills per set. Mankus is knocking down an average of 3.68 kills per set, while Jarka is averaging 3.44 kills per set. Combined, the duo has accounted for half of Army's overall attack attempts (495 of 970, 51%) and kills during the league campaign (178 of 359, 49.6%).
The Black Knights have posted consecutive three-match sweeps over Holy Cross, Lehigh and Lafayette since suffering their lone league loss of the season to Colgate. Army has won those nine sets by an average of 9.2 points a set.
Included among Army's six league wins this autumn was a four-set (25-19, 28-30, 25-16, 25-23) victory over Navy on Sept. 22 in Annapolis. The nearly two-hour Star match featured the score being tied 33 times and the league changing hands 12 times. Though Navy totaled just one more attack attempt than Army did in the match, the Black Knights finished the evening with 14 more kills than the Mids did and with a 100-point advantage in hitting percentage. Army also held slight advantages over Navy in both aces (4-2) and digs (73-67), while both teams recorded 12.0 team blocks.
Jarka led all players in the match with 16 kills, Mankus totaled 12 kills, a .355 attack percentage and snared 20 digs, Mary Vaccaro posted 34 assists, 11 kills, three aces and hit .450, and D.J. Phee accrued 22 digs. For Navy, Case Trimble (So., Orlando, Fla.) posted a team-high 11 kills while hitting .476, Fortner recorded 10 kills, Cassel tallied 10 kills, a .308 hitting percentage and 10 blocks, Ewert knocked down nine kills, Jamie Francona (Fr., Chestnut Hill, Mass.) brought in 18 digs and Rapp grabbed 15 digs.
Navy has dropped five consecutive matches to Army and has lost on each of its last six trips to West Point.
The Holy Cross (1-6 in league matches) offense is led by Megan Lynch and Emily Oliver. Lynch is averaging 2.04 kills per set, while Oliver enters a Friday night match at home against American with an average of 1.73 kills per set. Hannah Grace Stokes and ranks fifth in the league in service aces (0.35 saps) and is seventh in assists (6.48 aps), while Elizabeth Watters stands sixth in digs (4.09 dps).
Navy came away with a 25-19, 25-19, 25-13 victory over Holy Cross when the teams met earlier this season in Annapolis on the opening night of the league campaign for both teams. The Mids posted 47 kills, a .278 hitting percentage, 66 digs and 7.0 blocks in the match, while holding the Crusaders to 16 kills, a -.010 hitting percentage, 45 digs and 3.0 team blocks.
Fortner knocked down 13 kills and hit .478 on the night, Cassel had nine kills and no errors on 12 swings (.750 attack percentage) to go along with six blocks, and Rapp grabbed a match-high 19 digs. On the other side of the net, Oliver accounted for half of the 16 Holy Cross team kills, with Watters tallying a team-high 14 digs.
Navy's win over Holy Cross ended a lengthy skid by the Mids in the series. The Crusaders entered the first match of the season between the teams having won six consecutive league matches against Navy. This included each of the last three matches that have been played in Worcester, a stretch that saw Holy Cross win nine of the 11 sets that were contested between the teams in the three matches. Additionally, Navy has compiled just a 3-6 record over its last nine matches that have been played against Holy Cross in Worcester.
Facing Holy Cross the day after having played Army has been especially challenging for Navy. The Crusaders have won three straight matches against the Mids when the match between the teams has taken place one day after an Army-Navy match, as well as three of the last five such matches that have been played in Worcester.
"It is an easy sell to get our players ready to play against Army," said Bock. "We know we have to go into the match prepared to play better than we have on some Friday nights this season to have success. We also recognize how important the Holy Cross match is to our season's goals no matter the result of our match against Army. Holy Cross has a great outside hitter and setter, they are playing much better than they were when we first faced them this fall and we know they will be anxiously awaiting the start of our match on Saturday."