Lehigh volleyball freshman Hannah Wright, left, and senior Kelly Bennet attempt to block a spike from Loyola University on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2017, in Grace Hall. Lehigh took three out of four sets to defeat Loyola. (Maddy Burt/B&W Staff)

Lehigh volleyball returns to elite status in Patriot League

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The Lehigh volleyball team (14-6, 5-1 PL) started Patriot League play with four consecutive wins before falling to American Friday, 0-3, on the road.

The team’s 14 victories so far this season amount to more than the Mountain Hawks’ total wins last season. With 10 matches left in the season, the team is poised to put together a 2017 campaign that will supersede last season’s record.

“What’s different about the Patriot League this year is not one team is just dominating,” junior captain Emily Develle said. “We really think it’s anyone’s league this year, and we’re excited to go after it.”

After the season ended last year, the team spent time working on chemistry and culture through leadership meetings, tactical sessions and sports psychology sessions. This developed the Mountain Hawks’ ability to communicate and hold each other accountable for mistakes and their play, which Develle said sparked the success they’re finding this season.

“We’ve recognized the standard that we want to set and the high standard that we know we can play at, and we’ve found the mentality needed to be able to play at that standard consistently,” junior captain Megan Polak said. “So, now it’s just about keeping that mentality going into matches.”

Despite finding success early on in the season, the team isn’t approaching league play differently than how they’ve approached other games.

Polak said the team’s mindset is to play match-by-match and set-by-set, no matter what team is on the other side of the net.

“I think that the things that have gotten us to this point are what we’ve got to keep doing,” coach Bob Bertucci said. “We can’t stop doing the things that have made us successful up until now.”

Bertucci said with only one freshman starter — Sabrina Lancaster, who is hitting at .200 — the veteran Mountain Hawks are characterized by their maturity on the court, something that is different from years past.

Develle has 292 digs on the defensive end of the court and sophomore Ana Spangenberg is leading the team in hitting percentage at .261 with 212 kills on the season.

Polak said having Spangenberg as an outlet is invaluable because she provides an offensive channel that the team can always rely on for points when in-system plays might not be working.

“She’s just being a really productive, efficient and effective hitter right now,” Develle said. “She’s putting the ball down when we need her to.”

The Mountain Hawks spend most of their practice time focusing on their side of the court and their technical game plan.

Polak said continuing to improve their own game — and not focusing on other teams in the league — will help the Mountain Hawks reach their goals.

For the volleyball team members, winning a Patriot League title is always at the back of their minds, but Bertucci said the team’s main goal this early in the season is to keep improving during each game while holding each other accountable.

“Obviously, our main goal is to go for the (Patriot League Championship),” Develle said. “But we can’t get there in one step. We need to take the little steps in each individual match before we can get there.”

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