Sept. 1, 2012
FORT WORTH, TEXAS - Junior middle Megan Wilton paced Army with 15 kills, while senior co-captain Francine Vasquez totaled a season-high 15 kills as the Army volleyball team rallied for a 3-1 (19-25, 25-17, 25-21, 25-23) victory over Southern Methodist University on Saturday morning at the TCU Nike Invitational.
The Black Knights bounced back from a tough loss to Texas A&M Corpus Christi to open the tournament Friday night to improve their record to 3-2 on the season.
"It is always great to see a team comeback after a setback like last night's match," said sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci. "That is the making of a champion - learning from your mistakes and moving on. I'm so proud of their response. It was a team effort and our `as one' motto resonated all day long from the coaches to the bench to the players on the court. Everyone communicated.
"Ariana (Mankus) and Francine (Vasquez) really showed their leadership as co-captains today," Kovaci continued. "In addition, (setter) Mary (Vaccaro) ran a creative offense and was able to get past an extremely athletic SMU team."
Army totaled a season-high 12 blocks on the afternoon and was led by Vasquez (seven), Wilton (six) and sophomore middle Molly McDonald (five). In addition to the Black Knights' standout blocking, junior libero D.J. Phee helped anchor the defense with a season-high 23 digs.
"Blocking was the last thing we focused on in practice before making this trip," Kovaci said. "It was great to see that hard work pay off in a match."
Army's 12 blocks keyed the Black Knights in the second and third sets, compensating for a lower hitting percentage. The Black Knights chose the right time to increase that percentage, hitting .245 with a match-high 18 kills in the decisive fourth set.
The teams traded the opening two points, but SMU (1-4) took a 5-2 lead not long after. Army continued to chip away at the deficit and stayed within striking distance. An untouched Margaux Jarka made it 8-6 in favor of SMU. The Mustangs tallied eight of the next 12 points and took a 16-10 edge midway through the action. The Black Knights inched within four, 19-15, on a Wilton kill. Army continued to hang tough down the stretch and pulled within 21-18 on a Jarka service ace, but would get no closer. SMU took a 1-0 lead with a 25-19 first-set victory.
Again the teams exchanged points in the early going, as Mankus and McDonald teamed for a block to level the score at 6-all. Next it was McDonald and Vaccaro's turn to block, giving the Black Knights a 7-6 lead. The sequence seemed to energize Army's blocking, which again resulted in an 11-10 lead thanks to McDonald and Vasquez. The Black Knights continued to click on all cylinders and built a 17-11 lead heading down the home stretch. Army hung on for a 25-17 win.
The Black Knights opened the third frame with an 8-4 lead on a Mankus kill. SMU retaliated with a 5-1 run to knot the score at 9-9. Army scored the next four points unanswered, as the Black Knights took a 13-9 lead following back-to-back blocks. A service ace courtesy of Phee midway through gave Army a 16-9 cushion. The Mustangs did not go quietly, pulling within three points four times down the stretch, but Black Knights answered each surge and collected a 25-21 win.
Army opened up a 4-1 lead in the fourth set, but SMU quickly tied the score at 4-4. SMU used a 7-3 run from there to establish an 11-7 advantage before Mankus stopped the streak with a tricky, momentum-shifting kill. The Black Knights scored the next two points and inched within 11-10 of the Mustangs. Back-to-back Vasquez kills out of the middle tied the score, 12-12, at the midway point. SMU continued to hang with Army, which clung to a 21-20 lead late in the action. SMU scored two of the next three points to even the set at 22-22. McDonald's untouched kill gave Army the edge once again, but a serving error tied the score at 23-23. Vasquez delivered the next two kills to seal the comeback victory.
The Black Knights close out the weekend against host TCU in Saturday night's primetime match at 7 p.m. local time. The match will be broadcast live via FrogVision for a nominal subscription fee (click here). Fans already with a Knight Vision account will have the ability to use that log-in information to access the feed.
Match Notes: Army is beginning a new series with all three opponents participating in the TCU Nike Invite ... D.J. Phee (Allen, Texas) and Kaili Crow (Spring, Texas) both hail from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.