Patriot League Volleyball Championship Preview American hosts Patriot League Tournament again
Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year Sara Rishell leads American into the League Tournament beginning Saturday in Washington, D.C.
Nov. 17, 2011
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — Nearly three months after the beginning of the regular season, the four teams that finished in the top half of the League standings find themselves heading to a familiar venue for the 2011 edition of the Patriot League Tournament.
Once again, American captured the regular-season crown and hosts the four-team playoff at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C. The top-seeded Eagles are in the No. 1 spot for the 10th time in the last 11 years, and bring an 18-match win streak in home tournament matches into the weekend. American will look to extend that dominating streak this weekend when it hosts Army, Colgate and Lehigh for the four-team playoff.
Like American, Army is a perennial participant in the Patriot League Tournament. While the Eagles have qualified in each of the last 11 seasons, Army owns the longest streak in the four-team era since 1996, having qualified now in 13 straight years. The Black Knights wrapped up the No. 2 seed on the final weekend of the regular season, but historically that slot has not been kind to the Black Knights. Army has been the second seed in five of the last seven tournaments, having advanced to the championship just once out of that slot. The Black Knights ended American’s run of eight consecutive titles in 2009, but did that as the No. 1 seed.
Under the guidance of first-year head coach Bob Bertucci, Lehigh qualified for the League Tournament for the first time since 2009 and boasts 19 victories on the season, the highest for the program since 2002. While Bertucci is in his first season in Bethlehem, Pa., he’s no stranger to the postseason, having guided Temple to four Atlantic 10 championships in his 16 years heading up the Owls. One of his former players is Army head coach Alma Kovaci, setting up an intriguing matchup between the two in Saturday’s semifinals.
Colgate is making its fifth consecutive trip to the Patriot League Tournament, and has made the championship match in three of the last four years. The Raiders have run into American in each of the last four seasons and have yet to capture that elusive victory against the Eagles, falling three times in the championship match and once in the semifinals. Colgate will get another crack at American in the first of Saturday’s two semifinal matches.
The tournament gets underway Saturday with top-seeded American hosting No. 4 Colgate at 2 p.m., with No. 2 Army against third-seeded Lehigh following at 5 p.m. The two semifinal winners will advance to Sunday’s championship match, which is set for 2 p.m.
2011 MATCHUPS American, 2-0 (3-1 – 9.24.11 – Washington, D.C.; 3-1 – 10.21.11 – Hamilton, N.Y.) LAST PL TOURNAMENT MEETING American, 3-0 (11.21.10 – Washington, D.C.) TOURNAMENT HISTORY SINCE 1996 American, 4-0 AMERICAN IN PLT SINCE 1996 19-1 COLGATE IN PLT SINCE 1996 9-7
AMERICAN The Eagles have met Colgate four times in the Patriot League Tournament, and Saturday’s match will be the second between the two in the semifinals ... The last semifinal battle came in 2009, when American bested the Raiders 3-0 before falling at Army in the championship ... American has posted wins over the Raiders in the championship matches of the 2007, 2008 and 2010 tournaments ... Once again the Eagles feature a strong lineup with a League-best four All-League selections, headed up by Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year Sara Rishell ... The freshman outside hitter and middle blocker leads the League this season with a .323 attack percentage, is fourth averaging 3.21 kills per set, fourth with 0.93 blocks per set and second in total blocks with 101 ... First-Team All-League selection Juliana Crum is another offensive weapon, as her 3.10 kills per set are fifth in the League while her .259 attack percentage is 10th ... Scholar-Athlete of the Year Rebecca Heath is seventh in the League hitting .268, while freshman Monika Smidova is part of a 1-2 setting punch with senior Alexandra Hammer ... American is 18-0 all-time in League Tournament matches at Bender Arena and went 9-5 overall at home this season.
COLGATE Three All-League performers lead the Raiders into their fifth consecutive trip to the Patriot League Tournament ... Sophomore outside hitter Lindsay Young garnered First-Team accolades from the head coaches after averaging 3.35 kills per set during the regular season ... She’s hitting .219 on the season with 355 total kills, and has added 204 digs for a 1.92 digs-per-set average ... Sophomore Kaylee Fifer has emerged into an all-around threat for Ryan Baker’s club, as she’s third in the League averaging 9.39 assists per set and eighth with a .264 hitting percentage ... Fifer was named Second-Team All-League along with senior middle blocker Kaylee Dougherty ... Dougherty is hitting .248 on the year and is averaging 2.35 kills per set ... She leads the Raiders with 62 blocks and a 0.58 block-per-frame rate ... The Raiders have also received strong contributions from freshman in Diane Seely, who has played in all but five sets this season ... She’s averaging 1.75 kills per set and has 35 digs and 35 blocks entering this weekend’s tournament.
SEMIFINALS – SATURDAY – BENDER ARENA, WASHINGTON, D.C. No. 2 Army Black Knights (22-7, 12-2 Patriot League) vs. No. 3 Lehigh Mountain Hawks (19-9, 10-4 Patriot League), 5 p.m.
2011 MATCHUPS Army, 2-0 (3-1 – 9.23.11 – Bethlehem, Pa.; 3-1 – 10.22.11 – West Point, N.Y.) LAST PL TOURNAMENT MEETING Army, 3-0 (11.21.09 – West Point, N.Y.) TOURNAMENT HISTORY SINCE 1996 Army, 2-0 ARMY IN PLT SINCE 1996 4-12 LEHIGH IN PLT SINCE 1996 3-8
ARMY The Black Knights have been in every Patriot League Tournament since 1999 and own the longest streak of appearances in the four-team era at 13 straight years ... Army is the League’s best at distributing the ball, averaging nearly 13 assists per set, while the Black Knights are averaging a League-high 2.02 blocks per frame ... Freshman Mary Vaccaro and sophomore Megan Wilton earned First-Team All-League laurels this week, with Vaccaro adding the Setter of the Year trophy ... She sits first in the League averaging 11.40 assists per set and with 1,220 for the season is just 11 away from cracking the League’s single-season list ... Army is the No. 2 seed for the sixth time since the field-of-four format was adopted in 1996, but the Black Knights are only 1-5 all-time in the semis as the second seed ... They advanced in 2004 before falling in three sets to American in the championship ... Army last lost its last four semifinal matches when seeded No. 2 ... Junior outside hitter Ariana Mankus is back on the All-League team for the first time since her rookie season in which she was named Player and Rookie of the Year ... She garnered First-Team status after finishing second in the League with 3.72 kills per set ... Saturday will be just the third meeting between the programs in the League Tournament since 1996.
LEHIGH The Mountain Hawks are enjoying their best season in several years and are back in the League Tournament for the first time since 2009 ... Their 19 overall wins are the most since 2002, when Lehigh also went 10-4 in the League and was the tournament’s No. 2 seed ... Bob Bertucci took over during the offseason as head coach after a 16-year run at Temple ... Sophomore Rachel Charles was named Libero of the Year after averaging 4.22 digs per set during the regular season ... She also tops the League with 55 service aces and a 0.55 aces-per-set average ... Junior middle blocker Taylor Poole, a two-time Molten Player of the Week, garnered First-Team All-League status for the second year in a row ... She’s second in the League with a .318 attack percentage and upped it to a League-leading .389 during conference play ... Amanda Clark, who was named to the Academic All-League team, leads the League with 111 blocks and 1.11 stuffs per frame ... The Mountain Hawks qualified for the League tournament eight straight years from 1996-2003 and made a return in 2009 before barely missing out last season ... Lehigh’s last title came in 1997, when it was also a No. 3 seed.
POTENTIAL MATCHUPS American’s only League loss of the season came in a 3-0 defeat at Lehigh Oct. 15, so the Eagles are a combined 3-1 against the Mountain Hawks and Army ... American rallied to a 3-2 win over Army at West Point, while the Eagles captured a four-set victory in the nation’s capital in the rematch ... Colgate is 1-3 against Army and Lehigh this season, dropping two five-setters to the Black Knights, while its win against Lehigh was a 3-0 decision in Hamilton, N.Y. ... Army is 2-2 against American and Colgate, while Lehigh is also 2-2 against the teams in the other semifinal.
Patriot League Tournament Notebook
FAMILIAR FACE SERVING AS VOLLEYBALL TOURNAMENT HOST For the 10th time in 11 years, American’s Bender Arena is the site of the Patriot League Volleyball Tournament, which gets underway Saturday with two semifinal contests and concludes with Sunday’s championship match. The Eagles wrapped up the top overall seed during the final weekend of the regular season and capped off a 13-1 ledger during League play. American will play host to No. 4 Colgate Saturday at 2 p.m., while No. 2 Army battles third-seeded Lehigh at 5 p.m. Sunday’s championship is set for 2 p.m. American is 18-0 all-time in tournament matches at Bender, and is aiming for its 10th League crown.
TEACHER VS. PUPIL, PART 3 The close relationship between Lehigh head coach Bob Bertucci and his peer at Army, Alma Kovaci, is well documented. Kovaci played for Bertucci when he coached at Temple. He made the move to Lehigh over the summer, and one of the strongest voices supporting the Mountain Hawks’ hiring of Bertucci belonged to Kovaci. Since Kovaci became the head coach at Army in 2007, the two had met a few times when Bertucci was coaching the Owls, but now they will meet at least twice a year during the regular season as League rivals. The Black Knights swept the season series from Lehigh, but Saturday’s matchup will be the first between the two coaches - and friends - in the League Tournament.
TOURNAMENT BOASTS ALL-LEAGUE FLAVOR Fourteen of the 15 student-athletes who were honored earlier this week with major awards and All-League recognition will be featured in this weekend’s Patriot League Tournament. Top-seeded American placed a League-high four on the All-League team, with Army, Colgate and Lehigh owning three apiece. In addition, all five major awards winners will be in action. They will be introduced and awarded their trophies prior to their respective semifinal matches. Named to the All-League First Team this season were American’s Sara Rishell and Juliana Crum, Army’s Ariana Mankus, Mary Vaccaro and Megan Wilton, Colgate’s Lindsay Young and Lehigh’s Taylor Poole. The Second Team consists of American’s Rebecca Heath and Monika Smidova, Colgate’s Kaylee Dougherty and Kaylee Fifer, Holy Cross’ Megan Lynch, and Lehigh’s Angelika Kopacz and Jessica Kudirka.
DOUBLING UP For the second time in three years, the same student-athlete was named Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year. American freshman Sara Rishell put together a stellar regular season and was so honored by the head coaches earlier this week. Rishell is the first double-dip winner of the Player and Rookie major awards since Army’s Ariana Mankus in 2009. Rishell, a three-time Molten Rookie of the Week, also was named to the All-League First Team after finishing the regular season leading the League in attack percentage (.323) while sitting fourth with 3.21 kills per set.
HEATH’S COMEBACK INCLUDES SCHOLAR-ATHLETE NOD One year after losing her junior season to injury, American senior Rebecca Heath added to her trophy collection this week when she was named the Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year in volleyball and garnered one of eight spots on the Academic All-League squad. Heath owns a 3.841 cumulative grade-point average majoring in anthropology and was one of two Patriot Leaguer’s who were Academic All-District First-Team members and will be eligible for national Academic All-America honors later this month. Heath is hitting .268 this season and averages 2.54 kills per set entering the tournament. She was the Patriot League Rookie of the Year in 2008 and was named Second-Team All-League this week.
MORE AWARDS American’s Barry Goldberg was named Coach of the Year for the second consecutive time and fourth overall. Goldberg has guided the Eagles to the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League Tournament for the 10th time in 11 years, owns a 147-7 all-time record in League matches and is an incredible 19-1 in the tournament. Army freshman Mary Vaccaro has been the League’s top setter and in the top 15 in the country in assists per set for most of the season. She was honored this week as the Patriot League Setter of the Year. Rounding out the major awards is Lehigh sophomore Rachel Charles, who was named Libero of the Year after averaging 4.22 digs per set and racking up 422 total digs during the regular season.
CONSISTENT, CONSISTENT, CONSISTENT This year’s four-team field in the Patriot League Tournament features three squads that are no strangers to the postseason. American qualified for its 11th straight playoff, and that streak is second only to Army, which is participating in its 13th straight tournament. Sixth-year head coach Ryan Baker has guided Colgate to the League Tournament for the fifth consecutive time, with the Raiders making three appearances in the title match over that stretch. Lehigh is the one relative newcomer to the foursome, although before this year the Mountain Hawks last qualified in 2009. However, it’s just their second appearance since 2003. They’re under the tutelage of Bob Bertucci, who is in his first year at Lehigh after spending the last 16 at Temple.