Posted: 11/17/2011 | Last updated: November 17, 2011 at 04:12 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh volleyball team will make its second Patriot League Tournament appearance in three years as the No. 3 seed Mountain Hawks (19-9, 10-4 PL) face No. 2 Army (22-7, 12-2 PL) Saturday at 5 p.m. in Washington, D.C. In 2009, Lehigh fell to Army in the semifinals. Lehigh hopes to avenge that loss and a pair of losses this season to the Black Knights as the Mountain Hawks will look for their first PL Tournament win since 2002.
In 2002, No. 2 Lehigh defeated No. 3 Bucknell in straight sets in the semifinals before falling to No. 1 American in four sets in the Championship match.
The last time the Mountain Hawks were the No. 3 seed was 2003, but Lehigh fell to Bucknell in straight sets in the semifinals. In 2009, Lehigh was the No. 4 seed and fell to No.1 Army in straight sets. The Mountain Hawks haven’t defeated Army since 2003, but they will look to break that streak Saturday.
Lehigh finished the regular season with its best overall and league record since that 2002 season in which the Mountain Hawks went 21-13 (10-4).
The Mountain Hawks started off league play just 1-2 after falling to Army in the league opener and then a week later at Colgate. But Lehigh turned things around and won five matches in a row highlighted by a historic straight-set win over American on October 15th for the Eagles lone league loss this season.
It was Lehigh’s third all-time win against American in 27 matches as the Mountain Hawks handed the Eagles their first-ever three-set loss in a regular season match since they joined the Patriot League in 2001.
Then on November 4th, Lehigh clinched its berth to the League Tournament with a straight set win over Bucknell. It was another historic win for the Mountain Hawks as it was the first time since 2002 that Lehigh completed a season sweep of the Bison.
The following night, the Mountain Hawks defeated Colgate in an exciting five-set match to help secure the No. 3 seed as both teams entered the match tied for third place. The victory not only helped Lehigh’s seeding, but it was another significant win as the Mountain Hawks hadn’t beaten Colgate since 2004.
For their efforts this season, a number of Lehigh players were recognized by the league. Sophomore Rachel Charles was named the Libero of the Year while junior Taylor Poole was named to the First Team All-League and seniors Angelika Kopacz and Jessica Kudirka were both named to the Second Team All-League.
Charles enters this weekend third in the League rankings averaging 4.22 digs per set and finished league play second with 4.19 per set. Charles also leads the league and ranks fifth in the Nation in aces per set (0.55).
Poole, who was twice named the Patriot League Player of the Week this season, leads the league in hitting percentage during league play hitting .389. In Lehigh’s 14 league matches, Poole has hit over .500 in eight of them.
Kudirka, Lehigh’s setter, is having a career year as she sits second in the league with 10.18 assists per set. During league matches this year, Kudirka is averaging 10.65 assists per set and is 23 assists away from 1,000 for the season.
Kopacz leads Lehigh with 257 kills and finished the regular season eighth among League players with 2.68 kills per set.
While it was a momentous and award-filled regular season, Lehigh’s work is not done yet.
The Mountain Hawks will face a very tough Army team led by a trio of players who were named to the First Team All-League team in Ariana Mankus, Mary Vaccaro and Megan Wilton.
Vaccaro was named the Setter of the Year as she leads the league with 11.40 assists per set as she was named Rookie of the Week a record eight times this season. Mankus finished League play second with 3.65 kills per set and enters the tournament also second in the League averaging 3.72 kills per frame. Her 398 total kills are second overall, and she enters the weekend sixth in the League in digs-per-set average (3.69). Wilton, the 2010 Rookie of the Year, sits third in the League hitting .300 and is averaging 2.75 kills per set for sixth.
In the team’s first meeting this season, Lehigh won the opening set against Army but couldn’t ride the momentum as it fell in four sets. In the second meeting at Army, the Mountain Hawks dropped a close first set 23-25 before taking the second set 25-22. But Lehigh couldn’t capitalize and again fell in four sets.
In both matches, Lehigh hurt themselves with costly errors. The Mountain Hawks made 58 attack errors to Army’s 46 in the combined two matches while Lehigh made 14 service errors. In eight sets, the Mountain Hawks managed a total of just five aces for a 0.62 ace per set average which is well below its season average of 1.88 which ranks No. 4 in the nation.
In order to be successful Saturday, the Mountain Hawks will rely on that serve as they will have to play close to a perfect and clean match on their side of the net.
Lehigh is 3-1 on neutral courts this season while Army is 2-1. Both of Army's league losses this season were to American.
Ironically, there wouldn’t be an Army volleyball team without Lehigh head coach Bob Bertucci. His first head coaching job was at Army where he founded the women’s volleyball program in 1978. Bertucci guided the women’s team to an AIAW district championship in his first season and was named the Eastern Collegiate Volleyball League Coach of the Year.
Bertucci also has some history with Army’s head coach Alma Kovaci. She is in her fifth season at the helm after playing and staring on a Temple team that was coached by Bertucci.
Should Lehigh win, it will advance to the Championship Match Sunday at 2 p.m. The Mountain Hawks would face the winner of No.1 American vs. No. 4 Colgate which will be played prior to the Lehigh-Army match.