Mercado Slams 27 Kills as Pioneers Go 1-2 at Villanova Classic

RANDOR TOWNSHIP, PENN. (September 21, 2013)—Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Calif.) led the Pioneers with 27 kills hitting .281 Saturday, as the Sacred Heart women's volleyball team was swept by University of Pennsylvania before defeating Norfolk State 3-1 at the Villanova Classic. Sarak Krufka (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) continued to show her dominance on offense posting 20 kills through the two matches. Sacred Heart finished the tournament 1-2 making them 6-6 overall this season.

Allison Riggs (Anaheim, Calif.) led the Pioneers in the sweep hitting .417 (7-for-12 with two errors), while Krufka racked up a match-leading nine kills.

Despite taking the first two points of the set on back-to-back kills by Riggs, the Pioneers lost control of the lead when Penn went on an 8-1 tare for a 10-4 lead. Sacred Heart slipped to as much as a 10-point deficit, 19-10, before three-point service runs from Ana Gonzalez (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) and Mercado helped SHU climb out of the hole and finish the set within five as the Quakers took the set 25-20. Krufka led the set with four kills, while Riggs was a perfect 3-for-3.

Penn carried over the momentum into the second game holding onto the lead from the get-go after taking the opening points ultimately winning the set 25-15. Gonzalez recorded five digs in the loss.

Rookie setter Kiki Robinson (Bakersfield, Calif.), who had her best set of the match, posting 10 assists in the third set, gave the Pioneers a 5-0 lead to open with her strong serving and forced Penn into a time out. The break didn't phase the freshman, who continued her run helping SHU to an early 8-0 lead. The Quakers chipped away until Meghan Connolly went on a hot streak to tie the game at 15 and give Penn the go-ahead point. The teams battled to the end, exchanging points all the way to extra points. With the score tied at 26, the Quakers combined a service ace and a SHU attack error to take the set 28-26. 

Mercado tallied the match-best 20 kills in the 3-1 win over Norfolk State, while hitting .302 (20-for-43 with seven errors). Robinson posted an impressive 38 assists in the match, while Gonzalez nabbed 17 digs. 

After exchanging the first few points, the Pioneers snapped the 4-4 tie with a three-point run and never looked back. Sacred Heart capitalized on strong serving, as they notched four service aces—half of the eight they recorded throughout the match. Mercado's five kills led the set, which SHU took 25-16. 

The Spartans opened the second set on an 8-2 run, holding the Pioneers right from the start. SHU fought its way back to tie the set at 16, 17 and 18, but NSU strung three points together to take all the lead they needed to tie the match at one set a piece with the 25-20 win. 

The lead flip-flopped three times and tied seven as the Pioneers and Spartan battled for the 2-1 match lead. Sacred Heart dropped to a 14-7 deficit before a six-point service run from freshman Marie Zimmerman (Denver, Colo.) brought the Pioneers within one point of catching NSU, 14-13. SHU finally tied the score at 20 before the teams exchanged points as the finish line grew near. Knotted at 23, a Spartans service error put Sacred Heart at set-point, and Krufka delivered the final blow of the set as Sacred Heart clinched the 25-23 victory. Junior Alissa Young (La Verne, Calif.) led the Pioneers hitting .400 (3-for-5 with one error), while Mercado's five kills led all players. 

The Pioneers had to play catch-up from the start of the fourth set after Alex Irizarry's ace gave the Spartans the opening point. After managing to tie the score four times, Sacred Heart took their first lead on a kill by Mercado, 10-9. After exchanging points, SHU took the lead that carried them to the 25-22 lead with Robinson's service ace that put the Pioneers up 16-15. NSU kept close throughout the rest of the match, coming within one points, 23-22, forcing the Pioneers to take a timeout. Mercado and Krufka knocked consecutive kills for the final two points sealing the win for the Pioneers.

Sacred Heart returns home next weekend to open the conference schedule against Saint Francis U on Saturday at 5:00 p.m., and against Robert Morris Sunday at 2:00 p.m.