Army's Mary Vaccaro and Megan Wilton look for more success when Patriot League play begins Friday. The Black Knights visit Lehigh and Lafayette over the weekend.
Sept. 20, 2011
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — After four weeks of non-League matches, tournaments and invitationals, Patriot League play begins Friday night in the sport of volleyball, kicking off the most interesting, important and sometime chaotic eight weeks of the year.
Several storylines have emerged in the first month of the 2011 campaign. As evidenced by its 9-4 record, the team playing the most consistent volleyball appears to be Army. The Black Knights have strung together four consecutive winning weekends, and last week’s 2-1 effort at the Quinnipiac/Yale Tournament was no different. The Black Knights ended the weekend on a sour note, dropping a five-setter to Yale after posting wins against Quinnipiac and New Hampshire. Freshman Mary Vaccaro put up another week of impressive numbers en route to being named the Molten Rookie of the Week. She averaged over 10 assists per set while posting dig totals of 10, 18 and 19 in the three weekend matchups. That makes it three weekly nods in four outings for the rookie out of Orinda, Calif. Sophomore Megan Wilton, last year’s Patriot League Rookie of the Year, garnered the Molten Player of the Week award after hitting .355 and averating 2.79 kills per set with six total digs and six blocks.
The season’s first few weeks have been up and down for Lehigh, which is under the direction of first-year head coach Bob Bertucci. The Mountain Hawks were downed 3-0 at Rutgers last Tuesday, but rebounded to win the Crosstown Tournament with three victories. Sophomore Paige Kruse was named Tournament MVP, hitting .462 in her team’s sweep of Saint Francis (Pa.) and logging a career-high 19 kills in a 3-1 victory over Princeton.
In a somewhat strange but not unheard of situation, League members Navy and Holy Cross met for the first time this season over the weekend in tournament action at Harvard. The match does not count in the League standings, but the Mids should be able to take some confidence out of their 3-1 victory against the Crusaders. The squads will meet again Sept. 30 in Worcester and Nov. 5 in Annapolis.
Lafayette’s fast start has cooled somewhat, but at 7-5 the Leopards have already met their win total from all of last year. They’ll look to improve upon that mark and get out to a good start in the League when they host Holy Cross and Army in Easton over the weekend.
With League play taking up the bulk of the attention between this weekend and the Patriot League Tournament in November, there are still some non-conference matches sprinkled throughout the schedule. Four such contests are set for this week, with a pair on Tuesday and two more Wednesday. Tuesday’s action features Navy hosting Morgan State for a 6 p.m. start, while Lehigh tries to make it four wins in a row when it visits Saint Peter’s at 7 p.m.
Two clubs hit the road Wednesday when American travels to Loyola (Md.) and Holy Cross visits Central Connecticut. Both are set for 7 p.m.
League play officially begins Friday night with four matches at 7 p.m. Four more are set for Saturday. It begins a stretch of eight straight weekends to feature League contests, six of which will boast eight showdowns.
Patriot League Weekly Awards
MOLTEN PLAYER OF THE WEEK
MEGAN WILTON, ARMY So., MB, Roseville, Calif.
Wilton, the 2010 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Quinnipiac/Yale Invitational after hitting .355 over 14 sets in the three matches that saw Army post a 2-1 mark. Wilton drilled 13 kills and had only two errors to hit .579 in Friday’s 3-1 win over Quinnipiac, and she added two more 13-kill performances on the weekend. Wilton has double-digit kills in five straight matches, and led her team with six blocks and 39 total kills during the tournament. Her .311 hitting percentage is tops in the Patriot League.
MOLTEN ROOKIE OF THE WEEK
MARY VACCARO, ARMY Fr., S, Orinda, Calif.
Vaccaro’s impressive season continues as she posted three more double-doubles in assists and digs in action at the Quinnipiac/Yale Invitational. She averaged 10.21 assists and 3.36 digs per set for the Black Knights, who posted victories of 3-1 over Quinnipiac and 3-2 against New Hampshire. She tallied at least 44 assists in all three contests, and logged a career-high 19 digs versus Yale. Vaccaro now has double-doubles in five straight matches, while her 50 assists against New Hampshire was the fifth time this season she’s hit that plateau.
PAIGE KRUSE, LEHIGH So., RS, Chicago, Ill.
Kruse hit .321 while averaging 3.50 kills per set and was named the Most Valuable Player of the Crosstown Tournament hosted by Lehigh and Lafayette. She hit a career-high .462 against Saint Francis (Pa.) and logged a career-best 19 kills in the four-set win over Princeton.
KAT TAUSCHER, BUCKNELL Jr., S, Washington, D.C.
Tauscher earned All-Tournament honors for the second week in a row after garnering the nod at the Bucknell Invitational. She tallied a career-high four kills in the 3-1 victory over Coppin State and a career-best nine digs against Stony Brook. She totaled 89 assists and averaged 7.40 per frame.
SARA RISHELL, AMERICAN Fr., OH/MB, Hagerstown, Md.
Rishell was named to the All-Tournament Team at the American Volleyball Challenge after averaging nearly 12 kills per set in the three matches. She hit .287 for the week and contributed 10 blocks, nine digs and three aces.
Patriot League Notebook
LEHIGH NABS CROSSTOWN TITLE
Old rivals Lafayette and Lehigh teamed up to host the Crosstown Tournament last weekend, with Saint Francis (Pa.), Princeton, La Salle and Hartford coming in for matches against either one or both of the entertainers. It turned into a strong weekend for the Mountain Hawks, who rebounded from a 3-0 loss at Rutgers earlier in the week to post three impressive victories to claim the tournament title. Lehigh bookended the weekend with sweeps of Saint Francis (Pa.) and La Salle around a four-set victory against Princeton. Both rivals are now 7-5 on the eve of League play, which begins Friday. The Mountain Hawks open the League slate by hosting Army, while Lafayette entertains Holy Cross. The two will swap opponents on Saturday.
OPALSKI HITS 300, 400 UP NEXT
Not long after Army head coach Alma Kovaci won her 100th career match on the Black Knight sidelines, Bucknell’s Cindy Opalski garnered the 300th victory of her career in Lewisburg when the Bison handed Coppin State a 3-1 loss on the opening night of the Bucknell Invitational. Opalski, who is in her 22nd year heading up the program, doesn’t have very far to go to reach the 400 mark. She’s up to 392 career victories that spans 26 years, so it’s highly possible she’ll hit the 300- and 400-win plateaus in the same season. Her 300-316 mark at Bucknell is complimented by her 392-364 overall record.
LEAGUE PLAY STARTS FRIDAY
After four weekends of non-conference play, the Patriot League slate for 2011 is finally set to begin Friday with four matches all set for 7 p.m. Several interesting matchups are scheduled, with American hosting Bucknell in a rematch of last year’s League Tournament semifinals while Army, coached by Alma Kovaci, visits Lehigh for the first Patriot League match for first-year Mountain Hawk coach Bob Bertucci. Bertucci came to Lehigh last summer after coaching Temple for 16 years, four of which were spent mentoring Kovaci as a player. Other matchups include Lafayette trying to turn around its stretch of three losses in four outings when it hosts Holy Cross, and Colgate looking to get back into the win column at Navy. Four more contests are slated for Saturday, with American hosting Colgate, Holy Cross going to Lehigh, Lafayette entertaining Army and Bucknell visiting Navy.
ROAD TO THE TITLE
The 2011 Patriot League Tournament is slated for Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 19-20, with the semifinals taking place Saturday and the championship Sunday. The winner earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The Tournament is hosted by the No. 1 seed, which is the team that finishes with the best regular-season record against League competition. Being the top seed has its perks, as each of the last 11 tournament hosts have held serve to claim the League crown and advance to the NCAA Tournament. It also occurred in 1996 (Colgate) and 1998 (Bucknell). Bucknell hosted and won the League title in 2000 before American ran off eight straight titles from 2001-08 when it hosted the four-team playoff at Bender Arena. Army entertained the field and won in 2009 before the Eagles recaptured the championship on its home floor one year ago.
THREE NEW FACES ON THE SIDELINES
It was an unprecedented offseason as three League teams have new head coaches on the sidelines in 2011. Two of them are veterans with incredible track records and mountains of respect within the volleyball community, while the third has the exciting task of taking over a program for the first time. Larry Bock is the new person on the Navy bench, bringing 40 seasons of experience to a program that last made the Patriot League Tournament in 2007. He began the season with an overall record of 1,352-283-4, which includes stints coaching both the men and women’s teams at Juniata College. His tenture featured several NCAA Division III Championships. Bob Bertucci, who spent the last 16 years at Temple, was tapped by Lehigh to be its new head coach. In 32 seasons overall, he accumulated a record of 667-383, which included stops at Army, Tennessee and Rutgers-Newark. Making her head coaching debut is Erin Walker, who was named head coach in April after spending last year as an assistant with the Crusaders. The New Hampshire graduate also spent two years on the coaching staff at her alma mater after her four-year playing career for the Wildcats, in which she was named All-America East three times.
DEFENDING CHAMPION AMERICAN DOMINATES PRESEASON POLL
A year after running the table in the Patriot League, winning 29 matches and narrowly falling in five sets to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament, American claimed the No. 1 spot in the League’s preseason poll just a few days before the start of the regular season. With the maximum 98 points and 14 first-place votes, the Eagles are the overwhelming favorite to repeat as League champions in 2011. American was trailed in the poll by 2009 League champion Army, which captured 83 points. The two remaining first-place votes went to 2010 runner-up Colgate, which finished third in the balloting with 73 points. Bucknell captured fourth with 57 points, followed very closely by Lehigh in fifth with 56 points. The poll was rounded out by Navy in sixth (34 points), Holy Cross in seventh (28) and Lafayette in eighth (19).