Tough ACC tests loom for Cavalier volleyball squad
Miami, No. 15 Florida State tout strong records, arrive as road favorites
The Virginia volleyball team dives headfirst into its conference schedule this weekend, as it hosts Miami and No. 15 Florida State with its eyes on an upset victory or two.
The Cavaliers (5-6, 0-1 ACC) last competed in the Marriott Cavalier Classic, facing Virginia Tech and Liberty last weekend. The two bouts served as an opportunity for the team to measure its progress against a pair of challenging opponents and prepare for conference play.
In its first ACC match of the year, Virginia suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Hokies. Virginia dropped the first set 25-23 after a close play went in Virginia Tech’s favor and halted the Cavaliers’ charge. The home team then fell apart, losing the next two sets by an average of nine points.
Against the Flames, Virginia rebounded from its disheartening loss the night before, with a comeback victory. After dropping the first two sets and facing an early four-point deficit in the third, the Cavaliers stormed back for a split against the in-state foes.
The uneven performances illuminated Virginia’s emotional play, simultaneously one of its biggest strengths and weaknesses. When the team finds itself facing an uphill battle as they did against Liberty, players have sometimes shown a collective resolve, coming together and dominating opponents for stretches. But the Cavaliers have so far proven equally prone to lapses in their mental fortitude when hit by unfortunate breaks such as the one that gave Virginia Tech an early edge.
“We learned that we can’t just go through the motions and expect to win,” senior co-captain and middle Jessica O’Shoney said. “We have to keep fighting for every single point, and we can’t get too high or too low emotion-wise.”
The Cavaliers will need to display the type of consistency they are striving for sooner rather than later to topple the Hurricanes and Seminoles. The Hurricanes (9-2, 1-0 ACC) have qualified for each of the last three NCAA tournaments and are favorites to do the same again this year.
Although All-American outside hitter Lane Carico graduated last spring, the ‘Canes returned most of its core group from last season, including junior right side Alex Johnson, who is one week removed from winning ACC Player of the Week honors. Miami narrowly missed out on being ranked this week, receiving the second most votes of any team to not make the top-25.
Meanwhile, the Seminoles (8-2, 0-1 ACC) enter the weekend ranked No. 15. Last season, Florida State became the first-ever ACC squad to make the Final Four in women’s volleyball. This year, the Seminoles’ only two losses have come against No. 14 Pepperdine and at Miami.
“We’re going to have to be ready,” Virginia head coach Dennis Hohenshelt said, “They’re both very, very good. I would expect those two teams to finish at or near the top of the ACC, and we’re going to have to be good from the first serve on Friday.”
In preparing for the two matches, Virginia will contend with opponents who employ similar offensive styles but have starkly different types of players. Miami features many small but fast players, who are athletic enough to move around the court quickly.
Florida State, on the other hand, has developed a reputation for being tall, strong and physical. With nine players listed at 6-foot-1 or taller, the Seminoles can stand toe-to-toe with just about any team in the country. Reigning ACC Player of the Week outside hitter Fatma Yildirim is one of the few checking in under the 6-foot mark, but the senior led the way for the Seminoles last week in a win against then-No. 21 Ohio State, recording a career-high 20 kills.
An upset win against either opponent would be a major boon for Virginia, which is still trying to distance itself from three consecutive losing seasons. Having already reached half of last year’s win total, the team appears to be making good progress in Hohenshelt’s first year guiding the program. To take the next big step, players have acknowledged they will need a focused effort for the duration of both matches.
“We can’t just walk on the court and be lackadaisical and expect these teams to roll over for us for no reason,” O’Shoney said. “They’re going to come out gunning for us just like we should for them.”