WEST POINT, N.Y. - Junior OH Fabiola Castro led Army with 20 kills and was one of three players to reach double-digit kills as the Army volleyball team gave Patriot League-leading American all it could handle before bowing in a 3-2 match on Saturday night at Gillis Field House. Senior MB Amanda Rowell and freshman RS/OH Margaux Jarka totaled 15 and 14 kills, respectively.
A chess match from the start, Saturday's contest featured the Patriot League's top two teams and entertained 25 ties throughout. American (25-2, 12-0 PL) edged Army (17-12, 10-2) by a 25-23 score in the opening frame, but the Black Knights with a 25-18 victory in the second. The Eagles captured the third, 25-20, before the Black Knights forced a fifth and deciding set with a 25-22 fourth-set win.
Army fell behind by a 10-5 score but showed no quit in the fifth set, taking the Eagles all the way to a 15-13 decision.
"We came to play this weekend and it showed, especially tonight against a very tough American team," said two-time Patriot League Coach of the Year Alma Kovaci. "Our practices were great this week and I can see this team starting to peak at the right time. I can see their confidence growing. Both us and American put on a great show tonight. It could have easily gone either way.
"I think this weekend will help our confidence. We're playing a lot of younger players, but I think our depth is probably our biggest bright spot heading down the stretch. To have so many players and so many freshmen contributing is amazing. I couldn't be more proud of where the team is right now. They believe in themselves and that counts for a lot."
Playing their final match in Gillis Field House, Rowell and classmates S Karyn Powell and L Brittany Jensen made their presence known on Senior Night. Powell's 59 assists marked a career-high for the West Harrison, Ind., native. Jensen reached double-digit digs (11) for the 10th-straight match.
Castro helped the defense with a season-high 16 digs, while sophomore RS Francine Vasquez added 10 digs to her eight-kill effort. Army dominated American in the blocking game, 13-3. Rowell contributed to six total blocks, including two solo, while freshman MB Megan Wilton added five total blocks.
Both teams totaled five service aces. American senior OH Magdalena Tekiel led all players with 21 kills to go with 14 digs.
Army came out clicking on all cylinders and opened a 10-4 lead, much to the approval of a packed Gillis Field House crowd. Wilton's kill made it 9-4 and she went on to team with Powell to block Cassandra Ricketts to make it 10-4. The Eagles countered, however, netting the next six points unanswered to level the score at 10-10 on a Tekiel service ace. The teams played back-and-forth over the meat of the first set and found themselves tied at 23-23 as American committed the error. The Eagles closed out the first set with a kill and Army error to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
The tight play continued through the start of the second session, which featured seven ties on its own. Army, which hit for a .314 percentage in the second set, leveled the score at 12-12 on a double block from Vasquez and Rowell. The Black Knights scored the next five points unanswered to go ahead 17-12 on a service ace from junior DS Kristina Keltner. The Black Knights held on for the decisive 25-18 victory.
The Eagles took a 10-7 lead coming out of the break and never trailed again. Army pulled to within one (14-13) on a Jarka kill. American led by as many as five, while Army got no closer than two the rest of the way.
The fourth set had the makings for a close battle from the start. Seven ties scattered throughout the set with the final knot coming at 17-17 on a crosscourt Castro kill. Army went on to close the set riding an 8-5 run to force a fifth and final set. The Black Knights held a 22-21 win when Kovaci called timeout. Jarka answered the call with a pair of kills down the stretch to help Army to victory.
Despite falling behind in the fifth, Army trailed 10-5 midway through the fifth. The Black Knights went on to fight American point-for-point down the stretch, including fighting off three match point chances for the Eagles.
"When you see your team down 10-5 or 8-4, you think it's over," Kovaci said. "I called timeout and I challenged them, telling them that coming back from that type of deficit would not be possible. I challenged them to prove me wrong that they did."
Army hits the road for its final two games of the regular season, playing at Colgate next Friday night at 7 p.m. and at Bucknell on Saturday at 5 p.m. With tonight's victory, American stretched its win streak to 19 matches and sewed-up hosting rights for the 2010 Patriot League Tournament, Nov. 20-21.
Match Notes: Army's only two Patriot League losses of the season have come against American ... the Eagles swept Army on Oct. 1 in Washington, D.C. ... Army finished the home portion of its schedule with an 11-5 mark ... the defending Patriot League champion Black Knights will be making their 12th-straight Patriot League Tournament appearance.