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Black Knights down Eagles in 5 sets

American doomed by defensive struggles

The American University volleyball team (17-10) fell to the Army Black Knights (14-10) on Nov. 4, by a score of three sets to two.

The Eagles were coming off a sweep victory over Holy Cross on Nov. 3 while Army was hungry for a win after a sweep loss to Loyola Maryland on Nov. 3. 

This game had major Patriot League playoff implications, with American able to move up in the standings and earn a bye in the postseason tournament with a win here and on Nov. 11 against Bucknell. Army, currently No. 2 ranked in the Patriot League, needed to win to keep their ranking and bye. 

The Eagles were without senior defensive specialist Rachael Bennett for this matchup. Head coach Ahen Kim said Bennett was ill the entire weekend, but would be back next week. 

The first set, like the match, was back and forth. The beginning of the match favored the Eagles, as they reached a tie with the Black Knights at 11-11 before pulling away in the set with a 14-9 run to put away the first set. Junior middle blocker Lilou Stegeman scored a point early in this run with authority, leaping for the ball over the net and slamming it down into Army’s court. 

The second set was much like the first, a very equal matchup that looked like anyone’s to win before the Eagles pulled away late. American held a much larger lead during this set, going up 7 points before sealing the set’s score at 25-20.

Stegeman, graduate student outside hitter Zeynep Uzen, graduate student middle blocker Carlie Fikse, freshman opposite hitter Carly Sciborski and junior outside hitter Adelina Berisha all notched kills in this set. Junior libero Bridget Javitch also put up back-to-back aces to force a timeout from Army in this set. 

In between the second and third sets, the Eagles’ 2013 team was introduced for an Alumni weekend presentation. This ceremony honored their run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament in 2013. Under coach Barry Goldberg, the 2013 Eagles went 30-2 and defeated Georgia and Duke before falling to Texas in the third round. Current Eagles assistant coach Sarah Katz Yiljep played on that team and was honored with the rest of her teammates. 

The third set saw the back-and-forth nature of the game come to fruition. After a tie at 17-17, the Black Knights found a second gear and the Eagles didn’t respond fully. The set ended with an 8-4 run for Army, and a 25-21 final score. 

Army’s hitters had impeccable ball placement, finding the Eagles’ flaws and exploiting them for points late in this set. The Eagles still fought back, Uzen and Sciborski both finding multiple kills each in this set. 

American started off the fourth set on their back foot, not taking a lead until a 10-9 point. The lead did not last long, but the Eagles held their own. Army was on set point for three rallies before finally sealing the set with an attack error from American. The final score of the set was 25-21.

The fifth set saw the crowd in Bender Arena come alive, cheering on the team to match the noise level of the Black Knights’ fans. However, this set was not American’s to win. The Eagles were tired out, and Army tasted the victory and pounced, finishing off the match with a 15-8 set victory. 

Sciborski led the team in kills for the match with 15, followed close behind by Uzen with 14. Javitch posted 22 digs to lead the team and junior setter Esma Sipahi recorded 44 assists to lead the team. 

After the game, Kim gave Army credit for their comeback win, saying “They were able to mentally recover from going two sets down, and knowing that they still have the chance to swing for points.” 

Kim noted that it was “A loss in a playoff game that didn’t end our season,” and a great learning experience heading into the playoffs and a guaranteed home match there.

He emphasized that winning their next match against Bucknell was important, even coming off of a loss like this. “My message to them was that I was proud of them, and that they fought all the way through five close sets with a really good team,” Kim said. “They showed no quit at any time through this match, and I’m just proud of what they did today.”

The Eagles remain home for their regular season finale against the Bucknell Bison on Nov. 11. 

This article was edited by Penelope Jennings, Delaney Hoke and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Daniel Carson.

sports@theeagleonline.com


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