BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh volleyball team won an exciting five-set match over rival Lafayette on Friday night (25-22, 25-16, 22-25, 20-25, 15-8). The Mountain Hawks were up 2-0 before dropping the next two sets, but Lehigh (11-7, 3-2 PL) rebounded and cruised to victory over the Leopards (7-10, 0-5 PL) in the decisive set. Lehigh was led by sophomore Lizzy Silverstein who posted a career-high 18 kills (her previous high was nine) while sophomore Rachel Charles tied a career-high with six service aces.
"Lizzy was playing lights out, it was great to see," said head coach Bob Bertucci. "She’s one of the hardest working athletes in the gym and you want to reward players like that."
Lehigh came out a little sluggish in the first set before picking things up. Led by Silverstein’s 10 kills, the Mountain Hawks won the opening set 25-22. In the second set, Lehigh found its stride as it pulled away in the middle of the set en route to a 25-16 set victory and a 2-0 lead in the match.
But the Mountain Hawks struggled in the third set as Lafayette found some energy to pull out its first set in Patriot League play 25-22. Lafayette used the momentum as the Leopards combined for 29 kills and 6 errors in the third and fourth sets while Lehigh had double the amount of errors (12). The Mountain Hawks dropped the fourth set 25-20 as momentum had shifted away from Lehigh.
"We came out after the first two sets and we were complacent," said Bertucci. "Lafayette was determined and when they put the pressure on, I didn’t like how we responded. We were making a lot of errors and not going for balls, things that I was not happy with."
Bertucci tested his team in the huddle prior to the fifth set and the Mountain Hawks responded. Led by sophomore Rachel Charles’ serve, Lehigh stormed out to a 9-0 lead and never looked back, winning the decisive set 15-8.
"I thought we were beating ourselves and I knew we were capable of playing better so I tested our player’s character," said Bertucci. "I thought they took that to heart and they showed me what they were made of."
The match was the 75th meeting between Lehigh-Lafayette since 1974 as the Mountain Hawks extended their edge to 46-29, including a 28-17 advantage since meeting as Patriot League opponents. It was first-year head coach Bertucci’s first taste of the rivalry and he could feel the emotional swings during the match.
"The emotions of this rivalry were very evident to me from both teams," he said. "I think that’s why we had so much up and down play during the match. They put pressure on us and emotions factored in the game and it wasn’t until the fifth game and we were determined to change the momentum and the way were playing. "
While it wasn’t pretty, Bertucci is happy with the way his team responded in that fifth set and knows there are valuable lessons to be learned in a match like this one.
"I think it was better that we had a five-game match because I think they need to realize that whoever they play, their biggest opponent is themselves," said Bertucci. "We need to learn how to handle an opponent taking care of the ball and building confidence in what we are doing on the court."
Lehigh will look to take those lessons into its next match on October 14th when the Mountain Hawks host Navy.