Patriot League Volleyball Championship Preview

PATRIOTLEAGUEDOTORG Sara Rishell and American are looking for their third consecutive Patriot League title and 11th overall.
Sara Rishell and American are looking for their third consecutive Patriot League title and 11th overall.

Nov. 16, 2012

2012 Patriot League Volleyball Championship Preview Get Acrobat Reader

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. -- The most important weekend of the year has arrived as Colgate University gets set to host the 2012 Patriot League Tournament at Cotterell Court inside the Reid Athletic Center.

The Raiders are serving as the field-of-four's host for the first time since 1996, which coincidentally was the first year of the current format. From the 1990-95, the volleyball championship was a full-field event.

Colgate began the season 1-10 but enters the playoff having won 14 of 17. The Raiders began League play by going unbeaten in the first leg and had sewn up the top seed before the last weekend of regular season competition.

Two-time defending champion American is the No. 2 seed. The Eagles started League play 4-3 but finished off conference play with seven straight victories. American has won five straight overall and has reached the 20-win mark for the third year in a row.

Army tied American with an 11-3 League mark and is the third seed based on tiebreakers. The Black Knights are led by Player of the Year Ariana Mankus and Setter of the Year Mary Vaccaro, both first-team All-League selections. 2012 marks Army's second straight year with at least 20 victories.

Lehigh wrapped up the tournament's fourth seed on the last weekend of the regular season. The Mountain Hawks are in the tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since qualifying in eight straight seasons from 1996-2003. Lehigh's last tournament victory came in the 2002 semifinals.


• The American-Army battle is the first tournament matchup between a pair of 20-win teams since 2007, and the first in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 match since 2005.

• This year's four-team field has won 20 of the 22 Patriot League Volleyball championships. Bucknell owns the other two.

• American is the two-time defending champion and has captured 10 titles overall in its 11 years as a League member. The Eagles joined in 2001.

• American, Army and Colgate have combined to host each of the last 11 tournaments. The Eagles hosted from 2001-08, and again the last two seasons, while the Black Knights welcomed the field in 2009.

• Army extended its League-leading streak of League tournament appearances to 14, while American is 12-for-12 in qualifications since joining the League in 2001. Colgate has made six straight tournament appearances.

• Twelve of the League's 14 All-Patriot League selections are participating in this weekend's tournament.

• In regular season meetings between the four semifinal teams doing battle Saturday, the road teams won all four matchups.

2012 Patriot League Tournament Preview

No. 4 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (12-13, 8-6 Patriot League) at No. 1 Colgate Raiders (15-13, 12-2 Patriot League), 3 p.m.

2012 MATCHUPS Colgate, 3-0 (9.21 - Bethlehem, Pa.); Lehigh, 3-1 (10.20 - Hamilton, N.Y.)

COLGATE The Raiders will meet Lehigh for just the second time in the tournament since 1996 ... Colgate won the last meeting in straight sets in the semifinals that year ... Colgate was also the No. 1 seed that season, and defeated Lehigh in the semifinals and Navy in the finals to win the trophy ... Colgate comes into the tournament with the League's third-highest team hitting percentage (.179) ... Junior Kaylee Fifer, a second-team All-League selection, is ranked fifth with 7.16 assists per set, and coincidentally leads the Raiders with a .252 hitting percentage ... Senior Michelle McCarthy and sophomore Diane Seely lead the attack, with both averaging 2.4 kills per frame ... Caitlin Cremin leads the League with 41 aces ... Seely and Liz Karnes both rank in the League's top 10 in blocking ... Cremin is fourth in the League averaging 4.02 digs per set ... Colgate opened League play with a sweep at Lehigh Sept. 21, but the Mountain Hawks ended the Raiders' win streak four weeks later with a four-set victory at Cotterell Court ... The Raiders are 3-2 in the semifinals under Coach of the Year Ryan Baker.

LEHIGH The Mountain Hawks' last tournament win came in the 2002 semifinals, when they swept No. 3 seed Bucknell ... Lehigh has been swept in each of its last three tournament contests ... Bob Bertucci's club is second in the League in distributing the ball with nearly 12 assists per set ... The team is also second averaging 12.36 kills per frame ... Three Mountain Hawks rank in the League's top 10 in hitting, led by Taylor Poole (sixth, .258), Ana Vrhel (seventh, .255) and Amanda Clark (10th, .240) ... Clark leads the team with 2.90 kills per frame ... Courtney McCutchan and Rachel Charles are tied for second in the League with 28 aces ... Charles, the Libero of the Year for the second straight season, stands second in the League with 457 digs and 4.97 digs per frame ... Two Lehigh victories this weekend would not only deliver the team the championship, but also give Bertucci 700 wins for his career.

No. 2 American Eagles (20-9, 11-3 Patriot League) vs. No. 3 Army Black Knights (20-8, 11-3 Patriot League), 6 p.m.

2012 MATCHUPS Army, 3-2 (9.21 - Washington, D.C.); American, 3-0 (10.20 - West Point, N.Y.)
LAST PL TOURNAMENT MEETING American, 3-1 (11.20.11) TOURNAMENT HISTORY SINCE `96 American, 6-1

AMERICAN The Eagles have won the previous seven meetings between the programs in the tournament dating back to 2001 ... The one exception was Army's championship victory in the 2009 finals at West Point ... American was the second seed that year ... The Eagles are a perfect 11-0 in the semifinals ... American posted wins over Army in each tournament from 2001-05 ... American leads the League in hitting percentage (.221) and ranks second just behind Army allowing opponents to hit just .135 ... Morgan Hendrix earned first-team All-League honors after finishing the regular season first in hitting (.312) ... Sara Rishell was named to the first team for the second year in a row ... She enters the tournament third in the League with 2.96 kills per set ... Hendrix is the League leader with 131 blocks (1.31 per set), while Rishell is 10th (0.81 per set) ... Freshman Allison Cappellino has been one of the League's top rookies this season and has led the American defense ... She's seventh in the League with 3.86 digs per set.

ARMY The Black Knights meet American in the semifinals for the first time since 2003 ... Army fell behind 2-0 in the teams' first meeting in September before rallying for a five-set victory on the road ... Player of the Year Ariana Mankus is one of two League players with over 300 kills ... The other is Colgate's Lindsay Young ... Mankus is averaging a League-best 3.62 kills per frame, and has 1,029 attempts ... The Black Knights are holding opponents to a League-low .134 percentage, while hitting .201 on their own, good for second highest ... Army leads the League averaging just under 13 assists per frame, led by two-time Setter of the Year Mary Vaccaro ... Junior libero D.J. Phee set an academy record with 556 digs this season ... The record had stood since 1991 ... Her total is the third-highest in League single-season history.


POTENTIAL MATCHUPS Top-seeded Colgate split with American, winning in three sets at home while dropping a four-set decision in the nation's capital ... Lehigh won in five over the Eagles on the road and lost in three at home ... The Raiders swept the season series from Army, 3-1 at West Point and 3-2 at home ... Army won both contests against Lehigh, with a sweep at home and a four-set victory in Bethlehem ... American is 5-0 all-time with Colgate and 1-0 versus Lehigh in the tournament ... Colgate has won all five meetings with Army in the tournament, but the programs have never squared off in the finals ... Army is 3-0 all-time against Lehigh in the four-team playoff.

Patriot League Tournament Notebook

The 2012 Patriot League Tournament heads to unfamiliar territory as Colgate's Cotterell Court serves as the site of this year's four-team championship. The Raiders have not welcomed the rest of the field since 1996, which coincidentally was the first year of the current four-team format. The Raiders held serve at home that year to win their second of back-to-back championships. Colgate is seeking its fifth title overall and first since 1999.

Though the site is different, for the second consecutive season American, Army, Colgate and Lehigh make up the four teams in the Patriot League Tournament. In fact, there are only five schools that have claimed a League title, and four of them are participating in this year's championship, making for a most decorated field. American (10), Army (four), Colgate (four) and Lehigh (two) have combined to win 20 of the League's 22 championships dating back to 1990. Bucknell owns the other two. Holy Cross, Lafayette and Navy have yet to capture the League trophy.

Two-time defending champion American enters the tournament having won 11 of its last 13, including seven straight against Patriot League teams. The Eagles are playing their best ball of the season, and feature a pair of first-team All-Patriot League selections in junior Morgan Hendrix and sophomore Sara Rishell. Rishell was the first triple winner last season of the Player and Rookie of the Year awards, along with the Tournament MVP honor. American went 4-3 in its first seven League contests, but has not long to a League squad since Oct. 13 at Colgate. The Eagles have dropped just four sets during their seven-match win streak against League foes.

Army and American both extended their streaks of consecutive appearances in the Patriot League Tournament in the field-of-four era. The Black Knights have qualified in 14 straight seasons, making every championship event since 1999. The Eagles are second with 12 consecutive trips, and they've never missed out on the tournament since becoming a League member in 2001. Meanwhile, tournament host Colgate is making its sixth consecutive postseason appearance in the seventh year of head coach Ryan Baker's tenure.

Under second-year head coach Bob Bertucci, Lehigh has made the Patriot League Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since an eight-year run from 1996-2003. Overall, the Mountain Hawks are making their third trip in the last four years, and are seeking their first tournament victory since the 2002 semifinals. That year, Lehigh was the No. 2 seed and survived third-seeded Bucknell to advance to the championship final. Lehigh's last title came in 1997.

Army senior outside hitter Ariana Mankus was named the Patriot League Player of the Year by the head coaches and earned first-team All-League honors earlier this week. Now a three-time All-League performer, Mankus made history in 2009 when she was named the League's first simultaneous Player and Rookie of the Year. She's risen into the League's all-time top 10 in both kills and digs this season, while leading the Black Knights to the No. 3 seed in the tournament. Mankus enters the postseason as the League leader in total kills (358) and kills per set (3.62) while sitting ninth with a .248 hitting percentage.

A pair of major awards doled out earlier this week went to repeat winners. Army sophomore Mary Vaccaro was named the Patriot League Setter of the Year, while Lehigh junior Rachel Charles was tabbed as the Libero of the Year. Both successfully defended their awards from a year ago. Vaccaro earned first-team All-League honors to go along with her trophy, as she leads the League with 938 assists and is second averaging 9.57 per frame. Charles, a second-team honoree, is second in the League in total digs (457) and digs per set (4.97).

Army's Mary Vaccaro added another piece to her trophy haul Tuesday when she was named the Patriot League Volleyball Scholar-Athlete of the Year. The Orinda, Calif. native is a kinesiology at the U.S. Military Academy with a 3.88 cumulative grade-point average, and she earned her first appearance on the League's All-Academic team. Vaccaro was previously named a Capital One First-Team Academic All-District selection, putting her in contention for an Academic All-America honor.

American successfully defended its 2010 League title and captured its 10th championship in 11 years with a pair of four-set wins in last year's Patriot League Tournament held in Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. After splitting the first two sets in the semifinal match with Colgate, the Eagles won the next two to advance, and then took the first two frames off Army in the championship en route to another 3-1 victory. Sara Rishell was named Patriot League Tournament MVP after breaking the tournament's single-match mark with 19 blocks, while helping the Eagles set the tournament record with 30 team rejections.