Freshman outside-hitter Hannah Wright (#21) and senior middle-hitter Kelly Bennett (#13) go up for a block together on Oct. 7, 2017, at Grace Hall. The Mountain Hawks ended the season with an overall record of 18-13. (Maddy Burt/B&W Staff)

Lehigh volleyball looks to the future after semifinal loss

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Upon advancing to the semifinals of the Patriot League tournament, the Lehigh volleyball team saw its season cut short Nov. 18 with a loss to No. 1 American University on the road.

After losing the first two sets both by scores of 25-18, Lehigh rallied to tie the deciding set at 23-23 before back-to-back kills by American ended Lehigh’s season. Plagued by a game-high 24 unforced errors and an effective opposing attack, the Mountain Hawks saw a repeat outcome of their loss to the Eagles earlier this year.

“I think we matched up pretty well against AU,” coach Bob Bertucci said. “I was really proud of the team and how they mentally prepared and laid it all out there. But we made too many unforced errors, and there’s no way to sugarcoat that.”

Led by sophomore outside hitter Ana Spangenberg, who totaled 18 kills, the team reached semifinals for the first time since 2015, a marked improvement from the previous season. The team pulled off an 18-13 record with the help of skilled sophomore and junior classes. The Mountain Hawks only lost one starter from the 2016 season.

Bertucci said the team made progress as a whole this season. He said the team tacked up several notable successes against top teams.

Despite falling short in the Patriot League playoffs, the team achieved its season goal to appear in the postseason.

“Our first goal was to make the tournament, which we did, and it was obviously a huge accomplishment from last year, when we didn’t make it,” sophomore outside hitter Julia Pressly said. “We grew as a team a lot and developed more, which is a plus.”

After graduating five seniors the previous year, the volleyball team fielded five freshmen starters in the 2016 season. While the team only reached 13 wins and missed out on the conference playoffs, the season developed what is now the core of the team and set young players up for future success.

“The fact that my class had the time to settle in and get experience was really good,” Spangenberg said. “All five of us came back and were ready to play, which I think helped a lot with our on-court chemistry.”

The talent that emerged from last year highlighted the 2017 season, with Lehigh ranking in the top five of the Patriot League in blocks, kills and assists.

The Mountain Hawks also fielded two All-Patriot League players with Spangenberg in first team and sophomore middle blocker Lauren Bright in second.

After the conclusion of its season, the team’s focus shifted to next year and working out the lingering problems that shortened its 2017 season.

“I think improving consistency was our goal this year,” Spangenberg said. “Last year it was one of our weaknesses, and I think that’s one area we improved on this year, but we can only get better.”

After playing well against high-level competition throughout the season, the young Mountain Hawks are focusing on winning their first Patriot League championship since 1997.

Pressly said the team is committed to reaching its ultimate goal, with an added incentive for her sophomore class, which only had a taste of the Patriot League tournament.

“Our next goal would definitely be to win it, and we will work toward that starting in the spring,” Pressly said. “I hope that we win at least next year or the year after that while I’m still here so we can get that ring.”

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