The mission was clear for Colgate’s volleyball team on Saturday: after a season of hard work and four tightly-contested games against first-place rival American University, Colgate needed to win in order to take a one-match lead over the Eagles in the race for home court advantage in the Patriot League Tournament with just two contests to play. If Colgate got the top seed, the Raiders would be just two home wins away from its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1999.
But the Eagles, who have won six regular and postseason Patriot League titles in as many years since joining the conference in 2001, apparently forgot the plot. Led by superstar Rubena Sukaj, they jumped out to a 7-4 lead early in the fifth game. The Raiders won two of the next three points to make it 8-6, but the Eagles never lost their lead and pulled away to a 15-10 win to claim the match, 31-33, 30-21, 30-25, 26-30, 15-10. American has now swept the season series with Colgate and it will clinch the top seed if they beat either Lehigh or Lafayette this weekend.
“I felt that we all understood what we needed to do to take it from them and with a few less errors on our part the game might have been ours,” junior libero Jackie Adlam said. The Mill Valley, California native had a match-high 22 digs.
Colgate made a dramatic comeback to begin Saturday’s much anticipated showdown. American jumped ahead 20-11 in the first game, but Colgate answered back with a 16-6 run to grab the lead. The Raiders and Eagles would be tied five times after that, but American never managed to get the two-point lead needed to win a game. Eventually, first-year Casey Ritt scored one of her 11 kills to give Colgate a 32-31 lead. She then partnered on a block with junior Katrina Zawojski to win round one.
American answered back in game two. Colgate won eight of the first 12 points, but the Eagles clawed back into it by taking the lead, 18-17. Although Colgate managed to tie the score at 21, American promptly scored nine consecutive points to finish the game. American and Colgate went to the ten-minute intermission tied at one.
After the Raiders won the opening point of the third game, the Eagles went on a 14-6 run and cruised from there. The lead was cut to four late, but the damage had been done and American won, 30-25.
Down 2-1, Colgate returned the favor. The Raiders built a six-point lead at 15-9, but American cut the lead to one at 21-20. The Raiders won several timely points to tie the match at two and forced a conference-deciding fifth game, which American managed to pull out.
Once again, Zawojski delivered a strong two-way match with 15 kills and five block assists. Senior Erin Kanetzke had 13, while junior Merryl Pohl added 12. Sophomore Meghan Fanta set-up the offense with 54 assists and contributed 12 digs for a double-double.
Sukaj, however, was the key to the Eagles’ victory. She had 30 kills, 10 aces and missed a triple-double by one dig en route to her fourth Patriot League Player of the Week award this season.
The previous night, the Raiders swept Navy at home, 30-25, 30-25, 30-24. Colgate had little trouble winning the first two games and led 18-12 in the third game. Navy came back and eventually took a 23-20 lead, but Zawojski and Kanetzke delivered a string of blocks and kills to key a 10-2 match-clinching run. Kanetzke led the Raider block party with seven of their 14 total stops, along with seven kills. Zawojski had five total blocks and 12 kills.
Ultimately, Colgate was unable to fend off American’s final challenge, but Adlam expects another meeting in the conference tournament.
“It will be very hard for them to beat us a third time. With two more weeks of preparation, I believe we will have exactly what it takes to handle their offense,” she said.
The Raiders visit Holy Cross and Army this weekend. The match in West Point will most likely be a preview of the conference semifinal, as Colgate and Army are currently tied for second place in the standings.