HARRISONBURG, Va. – The Lehigh volleyball team fell just short on Friday night when it lost in five sets (16-25, 27-25, 19-25, 25-16, 9-15) to host James Madison in the first-of-three games at the James Madison Invitational. The Mountain Hawks found themselves down a set twice, but fought back to even the match each time. Even though Lehigh couldn't pull out the win, head coach Bob Bertucci was happy about what he saw out on the court.
"The girls played much better than in our last match so that was really encouraging," he said. "James Madison was a very good team and I thought our girls did tremendous in the way they fought back. It was nice to see our girls playing as well as they are capable of playing."
Lehigh (1-1) was led for the second-straight game by senior Angelika Kopacz who had a match-high 19 kills and added 13 digs. Sophomore Courtney McCutchan had 11 kills and 14 digs while senior Jessica Kudirka had a match-high 45 assists. Libero sophomore Rachel Charles had a match-high 21 digs.
In the decisive fifth set, the Mountain Hawks struggled to find a rhythm committing nine attack errors to just six kills. Lehigh was only down 9-8 in the set before James Madison (2-2) went on a 6-1 run to end the match with four of those six points coming on attack errors.
"You just can’t win when you make that many errors," said Bertucci. "We made entirely too many attack errors, but that just comes with needing to do more work on the offensive end."
After struggling on the offensive end in the first set falling 25-16, Lehigh picked it up with 18 kills in the second set with the two biggest ones coming at the end. Tied at 25, a kill by sophomore Amanda Clark followed by a kill by Kopacz and the Mountain Hawks evened the match at 1-1.
Another lackluster third set for Lehigh falling 25-19 and the Mountain Hawks were one set away from the loss. But just like the second set, Lehigh didn’t give up. Down 14-12, Lehigh went on a 13-2 run to end the game. This time, it was James Madison who made the errors as a service error, a bad set and six attack errors accounted for eight of those 13 points.
Unfortunately for the Mountain Hawks, they didn’t have any gas left in the tank as a bigger James Madison team took advantage in the fifth set.
"They were a much bigger team than us and we just didn’t match up well against them and that hurt us," said Bertucci. "They won the game at the net most of the time because of that size difference."
James Madison was led by freshman Lizzy Briones who hit a match-high .591 with 13 kills in 22 attempts and added five blocks and six digs.
Despite James Madison’s 13 total team blocks to Lehigh’s four, the Mountain Hawks tried to make up for it as best they could with 11 service aces to James Madison’s two.
"Our serving and passing was great and that allowed us to stay in the game," said Bertucci. "Our defense was good too considering we didn’t block many balls and we dug real well. We just still have a lot of work to do offensively."
Due to the Mountain Hawks’ schedule, those things are going to have to be worked on during the flow of a game. Lehigh hits the court for the final two games of the James Madison Invitational on Saturday as they face Robert Morris at 10 a.m. followed by Coastal Carolina at 5 p.m.
Lehigh defeated Robert Morris last year 3-1 (23-25, 25-19, 25-20 and 25-18) and the Mountain Hawks will face Costal Carolina for the first time in program history.
"Those will be two tough matches but it will be good to see how we can respond to the challenge," said Bertucci. "Our schedule right now is tough in that we don’t have time to practice the things we need to so we just have to adjust and learn on the run."