Aug. 21, 2012
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. - Although conference play remains a month away, it is not far off as the Patriot League's head coaches and sports information directors predicted Army to finish second in the 2012 preseason poll released on Tuesday afternoon. In addition, senior outside hitter Ariana Mankus and sophomore setter Mary Vaccaro garnered Preseason All-Patriot League plaudits.
Army finished second in last fall's regular-season standings and officially lifts the lid on 2012 with the Black Knight Invitational this Friday and Saturday at Gillis Field House.
"We are pleased with the outcome of this year's preseason poll, but do not put a huge amount of stock in it," said sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci. "Our goal remains the same each and every year - to win the Patriot League Championship and represent the Academy in the NCAA Tournament. We only have control of ourselves and our own game. If we concentrate on that and play as one, our goals will be within reach."
Mankus and Vaccaro, both first team all-league honorees a year ago, earned placement on the league's first preseason team in conference history. Mankus is a three-time conference all-star and former Patriot League Player and Rookie of the Year. Vaccaro earned Patriot League Setter of the Year honors after her rookie season.
"This is such a well-deserved honor for both Ariana and Mary," Kovaci said. "Mary's passion and leadership, along with Ari's talent and experience will help this team immensely. While both deserve this tremendous honor, they understand their importance within the team concept. They will both play extremely important roles in helping the team execute as a single unit."
Defending league champion American earned 98 points and all but two of the available 16 first-place votes. Army followed with 83 points and the other two first-place tallies. Lehigh's 71 points were good for third place, followed in order by Colgate (64 points), Holy Cross (49), Bucknell (31), Navy (30) and Lafayette (19).
The Black Knights posted a 23-8 record in 2011 and return the top three hitters for this season. A three-year starter at outside hitter, Mankus is a team co-captain and looking to end her collegiate career amongst the most prolific hitters in Academy history. Senior co-captain Francine Vasquez, along with juniors Margaux Jarka and Megan Wilton, return after highly successful 2011 campaigns. Vaccaro will quarterback the offense from the setter position once again, while rookie Vanessa Edwards is poised to make significant contributions as well.
Defensively, Army led the league in opponent hitting percentage and digs last fall. The Black Knights welcome back the majority of their defensive stalwarts to include libero D.J. Phee and defensive specialist Deanna Dalton holding down the back row starting positions.
Army opens the season against Quinnipiac this Friday, Aug. 24, in the first match of the Black Knights Invitational at 11 a.m. Indiana and Stony Brook round out the four-team field. All matches are played at Gillis Field House and are free to the public.
Patriot League Preseason Poll
1. American – 98 points (14 first-place votes)
2. Army – 86 (2)
3. Lehigh – 71
4. Colgate – 64
5. Holy Cross – 49
6. Bucknell – 31
7. Navy – 30
8. Lafayette – 19
Preseason All-League Team
Juliana Crum, American, Jr., OH
Sara Rishell, American, So., OH/MB
Ariana Mankus, Army, Sr., OH
Mary Vaccaro, Army, So., S
Lindsay Young, Colgate, Jr., OH
Megan Lynch, Holy Cross, Sr., OH
Taylor Poole, Lehigh, Sr., MB
Preseason Player of the Year – Sara Rishell, American, So., OH/MB