FAIRFAX, Va. - Sophomore OH Ariana Mankus' stellar performance which featured career-highs in both kills (27) and digs (29) was not enough to carry the Army volleyball team to victory as George Mason outlasted the Black Knights in a marathon 3-2 match on Friday night at RAC Gym. The match marked the opener for both teams of the George Mason Patriot Invitational.
Freshman OH D.J. Phee added a career-high 18 kills and 20 digs, but the Patriots shutdown Army's middle game as Mankus and Phee accounted for 45 of the Black Knights' 60 kills alone.
The Black Knights fell behind early in the first set and bowed in a 25-19 decision. Army battled back to take the next two sessions, 26-24 and 25-17, respectively. George Mason forced a fifth set with a 25-19 win in the fourth. The Patriots proceeded to out-duel Army by a 15-11 score in the deciding set to take a match that spanned two hours, 19 minutes.
Five players landed double-figure digs, including Mankus, Phee, freshman S Lauren Wood (15), senior L Brittany Jensen (14) and junior DS Kristina Keltner (12). Wood completed her first career double-double with career-high 22 assists. Senior MB Amanda Rowell claimed a part of five of Army's 10 total blocks on the night.
"We're still figuring each other out and how we can play as a team," said two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Alma Kovaci. "We had some really good moments tonight, but we need to learn how to use momentum to our advantage. I was proud of our effort tonight, but we're certainly not happy with the end result. Tomorrow is a new day and we have two chances to get back on track."
George Mason, the defending Colonial Athletic Association champions, came out gunning and cruised to a 7-1 lead in the opening set. The Black Knights never fully recovered during the remainder of the set. Back-to-back Mankus kills late in the action pulled Army within three, 20-17, but the Patriots countered with five of the next seven points to evade a comeback.
A highly competitive second set ensued, featuring nine ties and four lead changes throughout. Neither team led by more than five the entire way. George Mason broke an 8-8 tie with a 9-5 run to jump ahead by five, 17-12, midway through. Kovaci called a timeout with her team trailing 19-15 late. The Black Knights responded accordingly, using a furious 9-4 rally to level the score at 24-all on a Phee kill. Coming out of a George Mason timeout, Mankus again came through with consecutive kills to secure a 26-24 Army victory.
Army kept the fire going at the start of the third as the Black Knights quickly claimed a 7-3 edge after a Patriot miscue. The Black Knights kept rolling throughout the frame and led by at least three the rest of the way. Senior S Karyn Powell went to Army's go-to player all night late in the game, as Mankus kills accounted for three of the final four points of the set.
The teams battled point-for-point throughout the first half of the fourth set and found themselves locked at 12-12 midway through the action. It was then that George Mason made its move, using a decisive 6-0 run that would cost Army the set. The Black Knights managed to pull within two, 21-19, as freshman MB Megan Forbes blocked George Mason's Laura Spencer. The Patriots scored the next four points unanswered to win a 25-19 battle.
The Patriots jumped out to a 4-1 lead early in the fifth set, but the Black Knights proceeded to use a 4-1 run to knot the score at 5-5 as Forbes and junior RS Ali Giraud tallied a double-block. George Mason scored five of the next six points to take control of the match, 10-6. Army pulled within two twice down the stretch (12-10, 13-11), but the Patriots put the match away on a kill from Holly Goode.
Goode led George Mason with 15 kills, while Fanella Noelle added 12 kills and 13 digs. The Patriots evened their record a 2-2, while Army dropped to 2-3.
The Black Knights will be back in action at the Patriot Invitational with a pair of Saturday matches. Army is set to take on UNC Charlotte at 11 a.m. and West Virginia at 4:30 p.m. A webcast of both matches will be provided via George Mason All-Access (click here). Live statistics will also be offered for both matches.
Match Notes: The match pitted two defending conference champions against one another ... George Mason won an eighth CAA title in 2009, while Army claimed the Patriot League title for the first time in 15 years ... four of Army's seven rookies earned significant playing time on Friday night, including D.J. Phee, Lauren Wood, Megan Wilton and Megan Forbes ... Ariana Mankus' double-double (kills, digs) marked the 2009 Patriot League Player of the Year's second of the season ... Mankus hit for a .359 percentage with 27 kills and just four errors on a match-high 64 attempts.