Posted: 10/25/2012 | Last updated: October 25, 2012 at 02:32 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Winners of two-straight matches, the Lehigh volleyball team will welcome Lafayette into Leeman-Turner Arena on Friday night for a crucial Patriot League showdown with the rival Leopards that will carry postseason implications. After an impressive 3-1 win over the Patriot League-leading Colgate Raiders last Saturday followed by a straight-set sweep of Delaware State on Tuesday night, the Mountain Hawks will carry energy and momentum into their match with the Leopards.
"I think it’s going to be the revenge match, so to speak, and I think they are going to come in very ready to play," said head coach Bob Bertucci. "On any given day, either team can win so I think there will be a lot of emotion and they are going to try and repay us for the win we had earlier in the season."
Sitting at 5-4 in the Patriot League, Lehigh is tied with Navy for the fourth, and final, playoff spot, while Lafayette trails the Mids and Mountain Hawks by three games. Lehigh has five remaining Patriot League games on its slate, all of which will come through Leeman-Turner Arena, as the Mountain Hawks will conclude their regular season with five-consecutive home Patriot League tilts.
After a 3-0 sweep in Easton, Pa. earlier in the season, Lehigh now holds a 48-29 all-time advantage over the Leopards, as well as two-consecutive sweeps over Lafayette. The Mountain Hawks will be going for their third-consecutive season-sweep of their rival, as Lehigh has not dropped a match to Lafayette since October of 2009.
In their last match, Lehigh knocked off Delaware State in straight-sets for their ninth win of the season in the non-league finale. After a dominant 25-16 win in the first set, the Mountain Hawks shuffled their line-up in order to capitalize on the opportunity to play a variety of athletes. The Mountain Hawks broke out to a 5-1 lead to start the second set and opened up a 17-11 advantage later in the evening. Lehigh closed out the set with a 25-21 victory after a kill by freshman Claire Bradshaw. After the Hornets battled back from a 10-3 deficit to get the game to 21-18, Lehigh finished off Delaware State with another 25-21 win, courtesy of a kill by junior Lizzy Silverstein. Junior Amanda Clark has continued to dominate the court, recording a game-high 14 kills, along with a .458 hitting percentage, as she is coming off a Molten Player of the Week honor after knocking down 39 kills over two games last week.
Clark leads the Lehigh attack with 195 kills on the season, averaging a team-best 2.91 kills per set, which ranks third in the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks have three players in the top 10 of Patriot League performers in hitting percentage as freshman Ana Vrhel (.289) ranks third, followed by senior Taylor Poole (.273) in the fifth spot while Clark (.239) ranks eighth. Junior Dana Raber leads the setting game with an average of 6.01 assists per set, followed by freshman Amy Matula who is averaging 4.66 assists per set. Junior libero Rachel Charles is the glue that holds the Mountain Hawk defense together as her 359 digs leads the team, as does her co-leading 22 aces (with Courtney McCutchan). Poole has posted a team-best 0.92 blocks per set, followed by Vrhel who averages 0.72.
"This game is critical for us and we’re going to have to be at the top of our game," said Bertucci. "We have to be ready because we’re both in contention to still make a playoff push during this second half of the season."
Lafayette will enter Friday’s match riding a four-game losing streak, as the Leopards have dropped their last three Patriot League contests by a final set tally of 9-2. Lehigh will be the last road test for the Leopards, as Lafayette will finish its final four games of the regular season inside the friendly confines of the Kirby Sports Center.
In their last match, Lafayette fell in five sets to NJIT on Tuesday night, as the Leopards split the first four sets before dropping the fifth and deciding set 15-13. Sophomore Danielle Towslee and junior Karissa Ciliento led the Leopard attack with 14 kills apiece, while sophomore Katy Rooney paced the defense with seven total blocks on the night.
On the season, Ciliento leads Lafayette with a team-high 198 kills, which equates to 2.33 kills per set. Four other Leopards are in the triple digits for kills as Rooney (104), Towslee (159), freshman Brianne Giangiobbe (146) and senior Kaitlynn Zoller (137) have all knocked down 100+ attacks. Senior Sarah Frohnapfel is the setting specialist for the Leopards, recording a team-leading 612 assists on the year. On defense, three Leopards have dug 200 or more balls this season, as Ciliento (221), Zoller (204) and sophomore Michelle Woodworth (270) have all made major contributions to the Lafayette point protection. The 6-1 Towslee paces the Leopard blocking game with a team-best 75 total blocks, averaging 0.88 per set.
"I think having playing the last five Patriot League games at home is a huge advantage for us because the fan support we have received so far has is great and really energizes our players, plus you’re always more comfortable when you can play at home as opposed to on the road," said Bertucci.
After Friday night’s match, Lehigh will idle for a week before they welcome American inside Grace Hall for another crucial Patriot League match-up with the Eagles slated to begin at 7 p.m.