Aug. 22, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. - The Army volleyball program will begin its 34th season this weekend, as the team hosts Indiana, Quinnipiac and Stony Brook for the Black Knights Invitational at Gillis Field House. The four-team event will take place Friday and Saturday and is free to the public.
Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Alma Kovaci, Army was predicted to finish second in the Patriot League's preseason poll, announced earlier this week. In addition, senior outside hitter Ariana Mankus and sophomore setter Mary Vaccaro earned preseason all-conference honors.
Despite returning the bulk of a talent-rich roster from last season, while also integrating five freshmen to the mix, Kovaci is quick to point out the team concept and playing as one is what will lead to this year's success.
"We have individuals who have accomplished a lot in their respective careers thus far," she said. "While all of those accolades are wonderful, it will be the team coming together as one unit that will get the job done. Ultimately, volleyball is a team sport and it's our aim to capitalize on that idea in order to reach our goal of winning a Patriot League title and representing the Academy in the NCAA Tournament."
Kovaci has enjoyed tremendous success since taking the reins in 2007, authoring a 117-36 record and leading the Black Knights to their first Patriot League title in 15 years in 2009. Kovaci's club posted a 23-8 mark a year ago and finished runner-up in the Patriot League.
Current co-captains Mankus and classmate Francine Vasquez are the only remaining players from that 2009 championship team and would like nothing more than to end their West Point careers exactly how they started them - with Patriot League hardware and a trip to the Big Dance.
Mankus anchors a powerful Army offense that led the Patriot League in kills last season. A three-time All-Patriot League performer, she averaged 3.69 kills per set and is one of just two players in program history reach the century mark in both kills and digs.
Junior middle blocker Megan Wilton and junior outside hitter Margaux Jarka were Army's second and third most productive hitters, respectively, last season. A first team all-league honoree, Wilton finished the year ranked fifth in the Patriot League in kills and blocks. Jarka enjoyed a surge during the heart of Patriot League play last season and wound up representing Army on the Patriot League All-Tournament Team. She averaged 2.54 kills per set and became a mainstay in Kovaci's starting rotation.
Vasquez is expected to once again hold down the starting right side hitter position. A seasoned veteran and all-conference performer, she has played in nearly 300 sets and is inching towards the 700-kill mark for her career.
In addition to the afore mentioned hitters, juniors Megan Forbes and Kerry Horan, along with sophomore Molly McDonald all earned quality experience and are looking to increase their playing time in 2012.
Coming off one of the most prolific rookie seasons since Mankus' Patriot League Player of the Year run in 2009, Vaccaro garnered 2011 Patriot League Setter of the Year honors. The highly regarded quarterback finished the year ranked 17th nationally averaging 11.42 assists per set and garnered first team all-league plaudits. She also set a conference record with eight Patriot League Rookie of the Week citations last fall.
Incoming freshman Vanessa Edwards, a USMA Prep School product out of California, is poised to earn plenty of playing time alongside Vaccaro. Edwards' presence will add depth and give Kovaci plenty of options at the setter position. Edwards joins Christiana Fairfield to round out Army's setting corps.
Edwards is one of four members of Army volleyball Class of 2016, which will aid the Black Knights at a number of positions. Also getting their first taste of the collegiate level this weekend will be Zoe Kreitenberg (middle blocker), Kaili Crow (outside/right side hitter) and Nicole Perri (outside hitter).
The Black Knights also return a good portion of its defense from a year ago, which led the league in opponent hitting percentage and digs. Junior libero D.J. Phee ended the year ranked third in the Patriot League in digs, while her 4.28 digs per set were an Academy record. Junior defensive specialist Lauren Wood, who played in 88 sets and totaled 24 service aces a year ago, joins sophomores Deanna Dalton and Kristen Smeland in anchoring the Black Knights' back row.
Army officially lifts the lid on 2012 this Friday, Aug. 24, against Quinnipiac at 11 a.m. The Black Knights are slated to play Indiana at 7:30 p.m. that night, while also facing Stony Brook on Saturday, Aug. 25, at 2 p.m. Friday night's bout with Indiana will be webcast worldwide on Knight Vision. Click here for details.
Black Knights Invitational
Gillis Field House
Friday, Aug. 24
Army vs. Quinnipiac - 11 a.m.
Indiana vs. Stony Brook - 1 p.m.
Army vs. Indiana - 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 25
Stony Brook vs. Quinnipiac - 11 a.m.
Army vs. Stony Brook - 2 p.m.
Indiana vs. Quinnipiac - 4 p.m.