BETHLEHEM, Pa. – After beating St. Francis (Pa.) on Friday, the Lehigh volleyball team won two more matches on Saturday for a perfect 3-0 record to take first place at the Lehigh/Lafayette Crosstown Tournament. The Mountain Hawks defeated Princeton 3-1 before beating La Salle in straight sets. Sophomore Paige Kruse was named the tournament MVP as she led Lehigh with a career-high 19 kills against Princeton.
"I’m really excited for our team," said head coach Bob Bertucci. "They set a goal at the beginning of preseason that they wanted to win one of the early season tournaments. It’s a nice milestone moving towards conference play and to be able to accomplish what they set out to do was huge."
Kruse got to work right away with four kills to help Lehigh take a 5-1 lead in the first set against Princeton. Up 9-4, the Tigers stormed back to score five straight points to even the match. The two teams exchanged leads down to the wire. Down 22-21, Lehigh put together four straight points on three kills by three different Mountain Hawks to edge out the first set 25-22.
In the second set, Princeton made some adjustments. After some early lead changes, the Tigers led 8-7 and extended its lead to 15-13 before pulling away with five straight points en route to a 25-20 second-set win.
Lehigh responded in the third set with some adjustments of its own as it found itself with an 18-15 lead. Princeton came right back to even the match as the two teams fought for every point. Tied at 22-22, the Tigers won two straight points to give itself a pair of set points and on the edge of taking the crucial third set.
The Mountain Hawks survived the first match point thanks to a kill by Kruse and the second one by an ace from sophomore Rachel Charles. Momentum had seemed to swing to Lehigh as it won its third straight point for a set point of its own. The Tigers fought that off to even the match 25-25 but the Mountain Hawks came back to produce their second set point on a freshman Jade Van Streepen kill. But Princeton again found a way to even the match. At 26-26, it was a junior Taylor Poole kill that gave Lehigh its third set point. The Tigers evened it up again at 27-27 before the Mountain Hawks took advantage of a Princeton attack error for their fourth straight set point. This time, they were able to get over the hump as a sophomore Amanda Clark kill gave Lehigh the third set 29-27.
"That third set was the key, that was the whole match," said Bertucci. "When we were down by a couple points near the end of the set, I said to the girls, ‘We can still win this game, you have to believe you can win it.’ I think they took that to heart and we kept gutting it out and making it happen. When we won that set, that broke Princeton’s back."
Lehigh used the momentum from the end of the third set into the fourth as it got off to an extremely fast start 9-1. The Mountain Hawks never looked back and cruised to a 25-11 fourth-set win and match victory over a tough Ivy League opponent.
"We knew Princeton was a very good team," said Bertucci. "We watched them play the night before and they are big and strong and tough. We were focused, intense and determined to be successful."
Lehigh had 62 kills on the match as Kruse, Poole and Clark combined for 42 of those. The trio also had attack percentages of .356, .346 and .333, respectively
While the Mountain Hawks were ecstatic about the victory, their work wasn’t done yet. With one more match to go in the day against La Salle, Bertucci was worried about a letdown after such a great win.
"I was concerned about that because I was afraid our team was going to think it was going to be an easy match for us," said Bertucci. "La Salle is a scrappy team and I knew better and I told our team we have to stay focused."
Lehigh was more than focused and took care of business as it cruised in three sets (25-13, 25-15, 25-10) against La Salle. The Mountain Hawks put up a season-high .323 attack percentage as the team had an astronomical .484 attack percentage after the first two sets. Eight different Lehigh players had at least one kill as sophomore Lizzy Silverstein led the way with nine. The Mountain Hawks only committed six errors in the match while forcing La Salle to make 27 errors.
Behind Lehigh, it was Princeton that took second place in the tournament while Hartford was third, St. Francis (Pa.) fourth, Lafayette fifth and La Salle sixth.
While Kruse took home MVP honors, she was joined on the All-Tournament team by Charles and senior Jessica Kudirka. Joining the three Lehigh players on the All-Tournament team was Princeton’s Cathryn Quinn, Hillary Ford and Kelsey Janke, Hartford’s Kami Nethersole and Jackie Tamburri, St. Francis’ (Pa.) Lauren Wingard and Elizabeth Williams, La Salle’s Samantha Tulskie and Lafayette’s Karissa Ciliento.
It was a big weekend for the Mountain Hawks who were looking to regain their confidence after struggling the past couple of weeks.
"It’s all about confidence," said Betrucci. "They have to have confidence in themselves and in each other that they can do whatever they set their mind to. It’s just a matter of staying focused, executing and taking care of the ball."
Lehigh will look to use that confidence and keep the momentum going when it travels to take on St. Peter’s Tuesday at 7 p.m.