By Billy Owens
BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. -- The Knights earned a win in pool play and a win in their consolation match to finish third overall at the third annual CCBC Essex Knights Volleyball Tournament this past weekend in the Wellness & Athletics Center.
CCBC Essex (7-9) defeated the Community College of Beaver County (7-12) 3-1 on Saturday afternoon and again by a score of 3-2 Sunday afternoon. The Knights fell 3-1 to eventual runner-up Harcum College (10-6) in their second pool match Saturday and 3-2 to eventual semifinalist Delaware Technical Community College (2-4) on Sunday.
Christendom College (11-5) finished as the 2018 tournament champion, going undefeated in their four matches over the course of the weekend which included a 3-0 win over Delaware Tech in the semifinals and a 3-2 win over Harcum in the final.
In their first match Sunday against the Delaware Tech Hawks, the Knights held a two-sets-to-one advantage before surrendering the fourth set and coming up just short in the deciding fifth.
"We were four points away from at least coming out first in our [pool], but it just wasn't ours," head coach Geoffrey Koger said.
Essex held a lead for much of the first set, but streaks of points by Delaware Tech and an inability to force side-outs allowed Delaware Tech to take it 25-16.
The Knights fared better in the second set, gaining an early 2-1 edge and riding it out to take it 25-18 on an ace by freshman setter Heather Bertling (Catholic High School).
The third set was the most back-and-forth of the match, as Essex pulled in front early at 6-5 before finding themselves down at 18-17 until retaking the lead at 22-21.
Strong serving from sophomore setter/opposite Sabrina Bradford (Hereford) and precise kills by sophomore outside hitter Ann Benzinger (Dulaney) and freshman outside hitter Annette Thrappas (Carver) helped Essex close out the third 25-21.
Three consecutive aces by Thrappas in the fourth set couldn't get the Knights out of an early 0-4 hole as the Hawks claimed it 25-18 to force the decider.
A 4-3 lead in the fifth for the Knights soon evaporated into a 6-4 deficit, ultimately falling 15-11.
"We started out rough against [Delaware Tech]," Koger said. "We're missing a couple players today, just couldn't turn it around."
The consolation match against Beaver County was a similarly tough out for Essex, as they struggled to find offensive momentum and dropped the opening set 25-14.
The Knights tied things up by taking the second set 25-21, but were unable to get in front during the third and lost it 25-18 despite four kills from Thrappas.
Benzinger stepped up in the fourth set, getting a kill with Essex down 18-15 and hitting aces on four of her five service points to put Essex up 21-18.
Beaver County couldn't close the gap and Essex was able to level the match by winning the fourth 25-19.
Three kills from Benzinger in the final set, including one on match point to close it out 15-7, helped give the Knights their second victory over the Titans in as many days.
"It was a struggle for a while," Koger said. "Toward the middle of the fourth set we started playing much, much better, and we took them out of their game and out-served them in the end."
Saturday, Essex opened pool play with a four-set win against Beaver County. The opening set was extremely close, but three aces by sophomore libero Nicole Campbell (Kenwood) helped Essex pull in front at 18-17 to eventually take it 25-19.
The Titans charged out to an early lead in the second set and refused to relinquish it, winning the set 25-20 to level the match at a set apiece.
Benzinger and Thrappas combined for six kills and Bertling served two consecutive aces in the third set to turn an early 3-0 Essex lead into a 25-17 set win and two-sets-to-one advantage.
The fourth set was even closer than the first, as the Knights crawled out of an 18-13 hole to retake the lead at 21-20.
A Benzinger kill on the Knights' second match point earned them the set 25-23 to claim the match.
Essex's second pool match against the Harcum Bears was arguably the team's toughest battle of the tournament, as two of the four sets had to go past 24-24 to decide them.
The first of these was the opening set, which Harcum won 26-24 after getting its first lead of the set at 25-24. The Bears trailed by as much as 11-3 at one point.
Harcum fought back from 8-5 down in the second set, winning eight straight points to retake the lead at 13-8 and closing it out at 25-18 to earn a two-set advantage.
The third set played out similarly to the first, as Harcum never found a lead until earning its first match point opportunity at 25-24. A side-out on serve-receive and two consecutive kills by Thrappas gave Essex the third set 27-25.
Momentum seemed to be in the Knights' favor early in the fourth set as they jumped to a quick 6-0 lead, but the Bears kept it close and eventually took their first lead of the set at 17-16.
Four aces from Thrappas and two from freshman middle hitter Emily Dutton (Sparrows Point) in the set weren't enough to force a fifth, and the Bears converted on their third match point to win the fourth 25-23 and claim the match victory.
"We couldn't handle the pressure of just keeping the ball alive," Koger said.
Essex has a quick turnaround this week as it hosts Cecil on Tuesday evening. First serve is scheduled for 6 p.m.