LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – The Lehigh volleyball team opened up its 2011 season in impressive fashion as it defeated Rider (1-2) on Wednesday night at Alumni Gymnasium in straight sets (25-21, 25-18, 30-28). Leading the way for the Mountain Hawks (1-0) was senior Angelika Kopacz who had 14 kills and 15 digs while sophomores Amanda Clark and Courtney McCutchan added nine and eight kills, respectively.
"It’s great that we came away with the win and I’m excited for the girls that they started off their season in this fashion," said Bob Bertucci, who gets his first win at Lehigh. "It’s always nice to get the win. We suffered a little bit in the beginning with some jitters, but the more we play and the more we win, the better we will get over time."
In an exciting, deciding third set, Lehigh found itself down 22-18 before fighting all the way back. Faced with set point at 24-23, Lehigh evened the score at 24 on a kill by junior Taylor Poole. The Mountain Hawks then fought off three more match points before putting together a match-ending run of three straight points.
Down 28-27, Clark evened the score with one of her nine kills on the night. Then Clark along with sophomore Paige Kruse (seven kills, three digs) came up with a block for match point. Senior Jessica Kudirka - whose 37 assists were more than Rider had combined - was on the other side of things as she put away her third kill of the game for the final point.
"That end was definitely one of the highlights of the match," said Bertucci. "The girls never gave up and that’s really important. They made some smart plays and just found a way to win."
The match started with a tight first set. Neither team led by more than two points until Lehigh began to pull away late. Out of a Rider timeout and with the score knotted at 19, the Mountain Hawks reeled off two quick points on a Kopacz service ace and a kill by McCutchan. After the Broncs got a point back, Poole and McCutchan came up with a big block to take a 22-20 lead. Two straight points by the Mountain Hawks and they found themselves just one point away from taking the opening set. After a Rider kill, Clark put the set away 25-21 with a kill on an assist from Kudirka.
While the second set looked like it was going to be another nail-bitter, Lehigh pulled away for good late. Up 15-12, the Mountain Hawks put together a string of four straight points to extend its lead to seven 19-12. Rider looked to get back in it as it won three straight points, but Lehigh maintained its lead. At 22-18, the Mountain Hawks took the final three points with two freshmen helping put the set away. After an assist from freshman Kaylynn Genemaras on a kill by McCutchan, Genemermas had a kill of her own. Genemaras then assisted on a kill by fellow freshman Sarah Giegerich to give the Mountain Hawks a 25-18 second-set victory and a commanding 2-0 lead in the match
"Sarah has been playing well the whole preseason and Kaylynn complements our senior setter really well," said Bertucci. "We know both girls are players and they did a great job in there."
While Bertucci couldn’t have asked for a better result in his first match at the helm for Lehigh, he knows his team still has plenty to work on.
"We are a lot better than we showed tonight," said Bertucci. "Our blocking didn’t score us as many points as I thought it would and our offense in general was off by a step or two. We have to be in system when we are playing and be able to control the ball well enough. We weren’t doing that tonight."
Kayla Wong led the way for Rider with 13 kills and seven digs.
Lehigh will look to fine tune some things and continue its winning ways when it participates this weekend in the James Madison Invitational. The Mountain Hawks will take the court on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. against host James Madison. Lehigh will then take on Robert Morris on Saturday at 10 a.m. and Coastal Carolina at 5 p.m.