NEWARK, N.J. – Sophomore Courtney McCutchan had a career-high 18 kills but it wasn’t enough as Lehigh fell to NJIT on Tuesday in five sets (17-25, 25-22, 24-26, 25-21, 11-15). McCutchan, senior Angelika Kopacz and sophomore Paige Kruse combined for 43 of Lehigh’s 56 kills. But despite the great effort from the trio, the Mountain Hawks couldn’t overcome missed opportunities in the third set.
"We really had them in the third game and the match should have been over in four," said head coach Bob Bertucci. "We didn’t get the job done and we let them get back in it. We really let that set get away from us."
With the match even at one set a piece, Lehigh held a 19-14 lead in the third set. NJIT then won four straight points and eventually evened up the set at 22. Even though their five-point lead was relinquished, the Mountain Hawks fought back and won the next two points to give themselves a pair of set points. But Lehigh was unable to convert as the Highlanders evened the set at 24 and after a NJIT kill and a Lehigh attack error, Lehigh suddenly found itself a set down.
It was a familiar position though as the Mountain Hawks had been faced with a 2-1 set deficit twice this year. And in both matches, the team rallied back to force a fifth set. The same held true against NJIT. Tied at 20, Lehigh went on a 5-1 run that included a pair of kills from McCutchan and one from Kopacz as the Mountain Hawks won 25-21 to force a fifth set.
It was the third fifth-set match of the season for Lehigh and this one was close until the very end as NJIT pulled away late. The Mountain Hawks were down one point 9-10 before NJIT put together three straight points as Lehigh fell 11-15 in the decisive set.
"We did a great job fighting back in the fourth game and we had the momentum," said Bertucci. "Instead of coming out where we left off, we kind of came out and waited to see what they were going to do and you can’t do that in a fifth game."
Lehigh came out of the gate to start the match very sluggish. With just 17 points, it was the team’s second lowest scoring output of the season as the Mountain Hawks had more attacking errors (8) than kills (9). Kopacz struggled with one kill on 13 attack attempts and two errors while NJIT had nine kills and just two errors.
Yet despite the slow start, Lehigh came right back for a tremendous second set. Trailing 15-20, the Mountain Hawks caught fire winning eight straight points to take a 23-20 lead. Five of those eight points came from McCutchan kills as Lehigh took the set 25-22. The team almost doubled its kill total from the first set with 15 and cut the attack errors to just three.
Kopacz, who was recently named the Patriot League Player of the Week, had her fifth straight double-double (13 kills, 13 digs). Kruse added 12 kills while sophomore Rachel Charles had 19 digs and senior Jessica Kudirka added 44 assists.
Junior Janet Snell led the way for NJIT with 19 kills while freshman Camilla Tinari added 16 kills and 25 digs.
NJIT improves to 2-3 on the year while Lehigh falls to 3-2.
"As we continue to learn, we will get better," said Bertucci. "I think we have a great team and we are just going to get better every time we play."
Lehigh will look to rebound off the tough loss when it takes the court this weekend for the Long Island Invitational in Brooklyn, N.Y. On Friday at 2 p.m., the Mountain Hawks will take on Temple - Bertucci’s previous school where he was the head coach for 16 years. Lehigh then has a pair of matches the following day as it will face host Long Island University at 10 a.m. followed by Big East opponent Syracuse at 3 p.m.