BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Fresh off a heartbreaking defeat against Rutgers on Tuesday night, the Lehigh volleyball team will travel to Fort Worth, Texas to compete in the TCU Molten Invitational Tournament beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. with a duel against the Prairie View A&M Panthers. The Mountain Hawks will also be tasked with facing off against premiere talent including nationally-ranked Southern California (No.3) and a tough Texas Christian (TCU) squad that has won nine consecutive matches.
Lehigh came as close as two points from knocking off a Scarlet Knights team that came into Leeman-Turner Arena on Tuesday night having won eight straight matches, sweeping six of them. Up 2-1 in the match, the Mountain Hawks held a 23-20 lead in the fourth set before Rutgers stormed back to take a 24-23 lead and then continued the scoring and took the set, 26-24, forcing a decisive game five. From there, Rutgers would take the fifth set 15-11 and the match, 3-2, dropping the Mountain Hawks to 1-4 on the season.
Tomorrow night will begin the second pre-conference tournament for the Mountain Hawks and the first time Lehigh will be matching up against each of these teams in program history. In Lehigh’s first tournament of the season, the Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup at the University of Virginia, the Mountain Hawks dropped three games but junior libero Rachel Charles was named to the All-Tournament team after collecting 41 digs and five serving aces throughout the tournament.
Four Mountain Hawks are averaging over two kills per set, including senior Taylor Poole who leads the team with 2.32 kps, followed by sophomore Jade Van Streepen with 2.25 kps and juniors Amanda Clark (2.18 kps) and Courtney McCutchan (2.16 kps). Poole also leads the defense with 13 blocks, while freshman Ana Vrhel is second with 11. Vrhel has average an impressive .347 hitting percentage on 34 kills during her freshman campaign. Junior libero Rachel Charles leads the way with 81 digs, while junior setter Dana Raber has collected 110 assists through the first five matches (5.79 aps).
The Mountain Hawks’ Competition
Prairie View A&M (2-9) will enter Friday’s match riding a five-game losing streak after a 3-0 loss to North Texas on Wednesday night. Of the five straight losses the Panthers have suffered, three have been sweeps including two in the UNLV Invitational Tournament at the hands of Nevada-Las Vegas and Gonzaga before dropping a five-set match to Texas Southern.
The Panthers are led by senior Bruna Menezes with 114 kills and a team-best 2.53 kps, followed by senior Breanna McNeil with 96 kills and freshman Rachel Owens with 84. Owens has recorded a team-leading .203 hitting percentage thus far, while on the defensive side of the ball, sophomore Shanice Faison leads the Panthers with 133 digs. Middle blocker Amelia Velez has blocked 18 shots this season, followed by freshmen Charae Caldwell and Owens with 11 blocks.
On Saturday, the Mountain Hawks will start the day by facing the No. 3 team in the nation, the USC Trojans, at noon (ET). USC enters the tournament undefeated at 9-0 including a hard-fought 3-2 victory over No. 16 San Diego on Sept. 7. The Trojans have outscored their opponents 673-527 through the first three sets on the year and have been beaten just once in a fourth set (vs. San Diego). USC has swept six of its matches this season and gone to fourth sets just three times. The Mountain Hawks could look to take USC deep into the match and challenge the nationally-ranked Trojans in an area they have not explored too often this season.
Senior Katie Fuller leads the Trojans with a team-best 119 kills on the season and is ranked 32nd nationally with 4.25 kills per set. Right behind her is freshman Samantha Bricio with 111 kills, while sophomore setter Hayley Crone leads the team with 12 serving aces and 355 assists on the season. Serbia native Natasa Siljkovic leads the USC defense with 19 blocks, followed by Bricio with 15, while Fuller and sophomore Alexis Olgard have added 14 apiece.
The next match for the Mountain Hawks will be a Saturday night showdown with host TCU at 8 p.m. (ET). The Horn Frogs will come into Saturday’s match-up off a match against Prairie View A&M on Saturday afternoon. TCU (9-1) has rattled off nine consecutive wins coming into the tournament and has not dropped a match since a 3-1 loss to Northern Colorado in the opening game of the Belmont Invitational on Aug. 24. On their home court in last year’s TCU Tournament, the Horn Frogs went a perfect 3-0 with wins over Texas Tech, Grambling State and Connecticut to start a 13-game winning streak at the beginning of the 2011 season.
The Horn Frogs are led by 6-2 middle blocker Yvonne Igodan who has recorded 139 kills this season and ranks 18th nationally with a hitting percentage of .429 and 41st with 4.16 kills per set. The junior also leads the way with 41 blocks, followed closely by 6-1 sophomore Mattie Burleson with 38 on the year. Senior setter Megan Munce has collected a team-leading 20 serving aces thus far and ranks 17th nationally with .55 aces per set. Munce has also recorded 302 assists, while senior libero Meghan Horio has a team-best 134 digs.
After the tournament, the Mountain Hawks will be idle for two days before traveling to Princeton, N.J. to take on the Tigers at 7 p.m. inside Dillon Gymnasium.
TCU Molten Invitational Schedule (ET)
Prairie View A&M vs. Lehigh – 5:30 p.m.
TCU vs. USC – 8 p.m.
USC vs. Lehigh – 12 p.m.
TCU vs. Prairie View A&M – 2 p.m.
USC vs. Prairie View A&M – 5:30 p.m.
Lehigh vs. TCU – 8 p.m.