In the end, the third time was not a charm for Colgate. After defeating Army in an epic five-game Patriot League Tournament semifinal on November 16th, the Raiders volleyball team fell 3-0 to American in the Championship match the following night.
The match with Army saw numerous swings in fortune. Colgate won the first two games, 30-28 and 30-25, but had to fend off late Black Knight comebacks in both. Army was not demoralized by their struggles because they won games three and four in similar fashion. The Black Knights went on runs midway through each game to pull within a few points of winning, but the Raiders would not go down easily. Army did prevail, however, 26-30 and 27-30, to send the match to a first-to-15, win-by-two finale.
Not surprisingly, the game was a back-and-forth affair until its heart-stopping finish. Army took an early 6-3 lead, but Colgate’s 11-5 run put the Raiders one point away from victory. But Army called a timeout and scored three consecutive points. They eventually took a 17-16 lead, but on the subsequent match point, sophomore Kelsea Loveless’ kill tied the score to keep the match alive. Army committed an attacking error to give the Raiders a one-point lead. On the last play of the match, junior Merryl Pohl, who had a personal and match-best 26 kills, recorded the last of her four total blocks in tandem with first-year Casey Ritt to send Colgate to the finals.
Ritt and Loveless each supported Pohl’s efforts with 12 kills. Junior Katrina Zawojski produced a double-double with 20 kills and 14 digs. Classmate Jackie Adlam led the diggers, as she has for most of the season, with 19. Sophomore setter Meghan Fanta had 58 assists and 17 digs.
Colgate narrowly lost to American in five games two weeks before and hoped to get over the hump with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. Instead, the Eagles flew out of the gate with six of the first eight points. The Raiders pulled to within one and stayed in it through the middle of the game, but American’s 9-4 run made the score 26-18. Their lead never dropped below five, and the Eagles took the first game, 30-23. The second game was much closer, with neither team leading by more than four. Eventually, the Eagles held a 25-21 lead, but Colgate won four straight points to even the score. After a timeout, American won the next two points and five of the last six to prevail, 30-26. The Eagles could now smell a seventh league title in as many years.
One of the Raiders’ hallmarks this season has been a resolute attitude. Whether down a match point, as they were against Army, or two games, like in their victory over Navy in October, they have shown a remarkable ability to get off the floor through great talent and determination. American, however, quickly demonstrated that they would not permit another comeback. The Eagles started game three with a 10-3 run and never looked back. They cruised to a 30-18 win to clinch the conference title and a first round date with Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Adlam had 12 digs in the final and was named to the Patriot League all-tournament team to go along with her co-Defensive Player of the Year award. She is the first Colgate volleyball player to win a Player of the Year honor in consecutive years and will begin next season just 14 digs away from the all-time Patriot League record of 1,610. Pohl joined Adlam on the all-tournament team after a nine-kill performance. Zawojski led the Raider attack with 14 kills and contributed eight digs on the defensive front. Fanta recorded 40 assists and two total blocks, while Ritt finished her Rookie of the Year campaign with seven kills and as many blocks. Rubena Sukaj once again starred for American in the match. She had 25 kills and seven digs, leading the Eagles in both categories. Ivana Cebakova added 10 kills, while Christina Nash had 43 assists.
The Raiders finished the season 17-13, recording their best win total since 1999, when they last made the NCAA Tournament. Colgate also finished with its first winning record since 1996, another tournament year.
Seniors Erin Kanetzke, Sheila Giovannini, and Nicole Notrica will graduate, but Fanta, Adlam, Zawojski, Loveless and Ritt lead the many returnees. Furthermore, Colgate’s goal and team-oriented focus will not change.
“I won’t be truly satisfied until we have a Patriot League ring,” Adlam said.