WORCESTER, Mass. - Sophomore RS Francine Vasquez led all players with 22 kills, while classmate OH Ariana Mankus added 13 as the Army volleyball team edged Holy Cross on the road, 3-2, in Patriot League action. The Black Knights lost the first two sets but rallied to win the next three to improve its conference mark to 9-1 and clinch a spot in the 2010 Patriot League Tournament.
The Black Knights are guaranteed to finish in the top four as it would win the head-to-head tiebreaker against current fifth-placed Lehigh. Undefeated American (10-0) has also clinched a tournament berth. Army and American will meet in a rematch of the 2009 Patriot League Championship match next Saturday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. in West Point, N.Y.
Vasquez hit for a .327 average with just six attack errors over five sets, while completing her second double-double of the season with 14 digs. Mankus' 18 digs finished off a double-double for the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year as well. Senior L Brittany Jensen anchored the Army defense with a career-high 27 digs.
Senior S Karyn Powell, named Patriot League Player of the Week last Monday, eclipsed the 50-assist mark for the second time this season in leading all players with a career-best 54 assists. Both teams' offenses hit below .200 on the night, but stellar defensive play on both sides resulted in the five-set thriller.
The Black Knights opened the night with consecutive 25-20 setbacks to fall into a 2-0 hole against the Crusaders. Holy Cross took control early in both sets. The Black Knights never let either one get out of hand, but were never able to make a serious run.
Army avoided the sweep was its squeaked out a 25-23 victory in the third to make it 2-1 in favor of Holy Cross. The third frame went back-and-forth throughout before the Black Knights got back-to-back kills from Vasquez and freshman MB Megan Wilton late to take a 24-21 lead. The Crusades owned the next two points, but the Black Knights were the beneficiaries of a Holy Cross service error to end the rally (25-23).
With momentum on their side, the Black Knights cruised to a 9-3 lead early in the fourth set on a kill from junior OH Fabiola Castro. The Crusaders used a 6-1 run from there to pull within one (10-9), but Army countered with a crushing 15-4 run to close the set and win a lop-sided 25-13 decision.
The fifth set featured seven ties and three lead changes alone - more than any other set during the two-hour contest. Holy Cross took a 7-5 lead when Army head coach Alma Kovaci called timeout to rally her troops. The fourth-year mentor's plan proved valuable as the Black Knights proceeded to score eight of the next nine points to take a 13-8 advantage on consecutive kills from senior MB Amanda Rowell. Holy Cross did not go quietly, however, as the Crusaders out-scored Army 5-2 to end the set, but the hole was already too deep. Vasquez kills accounted for Army's final two points.
Sophomore Megan Lynch led Holy Cross with 18 kills, while Liz Ashton added 10.
Match Notes: Army will be making its 12th consecutive Patriot League Tournament appearance, Nov. 21-22 at the site of the highest seed ... five players finished with double-digit digs, including Jensen (27), Mankus (18), Vasquez (14), Powell (14) and freshman OH/DS D.J. Phee (13) ... Wilton and Rowell finished with nine kills apiece.