BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh handed American its first league loss with a straight-set victory Saturday afternoon at Leeman-Turner Arena. The Mountain Hawks (13-7, 5-2 PL) also ended American’s (13-10, 6-1 PL) eight-game win streak. It was Lehigh’s third all-time win against the Eagles in 27 matches as the Mountain Hawks also gave American its first-ever three-set loss in a regular season match since it joined the Patriot League in 2001.
“I was really happy with how well our team came out today,” said head coach Bob Bertucci. “They were completely prepared mentally. I think they are realizing it’s just a matter of them going out, being focused and executing. They did a great job all the way around.”
Lehigh got off to a quick start in the first set, jumping out to a 5-2 lead but then the teams exchanged points for most of the set. The Mountain Hawks were up 16-13 before American stormed back with three straight points to even the set. Lehigh was then down 21-20 but after a timeout, the team regrouped and found itself with match point after it rattled off four points in a row which included two kills from junior Taylor Poole and one kill from senior Jessica Kudirka and freshman Jade Van Streepen. American won the next point but another Van Streepen kill gave the set to Lehigh 25-22.
The Mountain Hawks rode the momentum and came out strong in the second set. Lehigh built up a 15-6 lead thanks to a 6-0 run that included three points from Lehigh blocks. The Mountain Hawks cruised the rest of the set as Kudirka finished it off with a service ace for a 25-14 second-set victory.
Like he did Friday night against Navy, Bertucci wanted to keep his team focused so he kept Lehigh out on the court warming up during the ten minute break between the second and third set instead of going back to the locker room. .
Lehigh responded Friday and did so again on Saturday as the Mountain Hawks got off to a 10-5 lead in the third set. American showed no quit as it rallied for five straight points to even up the set. It was back-and-forth the rest of the way. At 19-19, Lehigh scored three points in a row that included a Lizzy Silverstein kill and Angelika Kopacz service ace. The Eagles came back to score two points of their own to cut the lead to 22-21 but then Lehigh got those two points right back for match point 24-21. American wouldn’t go down without a fight but couldn't complete the comeback. At 24-23, a Silverstein kill gave the set and match to Lehigh.
“I think it’s important for our team to realize that they are capable of playing at that level,” said Bertucci. “I’ve been telling them that, but now rather than just hearing it, they can see it and believe in themselves.”
Lehigh finished with a .292 attack percentage, its highest percentage in a Patriot League match this season. The Mountain Hawks had 40 kills to just 14 errors as Lehigh was executing in all facets of the game. The Mountain Hawks had 10 team blocks and 10 service aces, both categories that were crucial to the team’s success. Kopacz had four aces while Courtney McCutchan had three and Poole added two. Lehigh entered the weekend ranked No. 4 in the nation in service aces per set with (1.94).
“We served real well and that took American out of its offense,” said Bertucci. “We put a lot of pressure on them and it gave us an opportunity to equalize the playing field a little bit.”
It was a complete team effort for the second match in a row as Lehigh had six players with at least five kills. Paige Kruse led the way with nine kills and Kopacz had seven while Poole and Amanda Clark had six kills apiece. Silverstein and Van Streepen added five kills each.
American was led by Morgan Hendrix who had a game-high 10 kills while Sara Rishell added seven kills.
Lehigh will take its four-match winning streak on the road next weekend when the Mountain Hawks travel to take on Holy Cross on Friday, October 21st at 7 p.m. followed by Army on Saturday at 4 p.m.