Cavs battle Demon Deacons, Blue Devils
Team hopes win against JMU sparks conference success
After snapping an eight-game skid Tuesday, the Virginia volleyball team has a new goal as it hosts Duke and Wake Forest this weekend — notch a conference win.
Entering their midweek match against James Madison, the Cavaliers’ (6-14, 0-9 ACC) last victory had come more than a month previously. The Dukes (10-11, 3-3 CAA), meanwhile, had endured a tough five-set loss to Towson just two days before. Their fatigue showed as Virginia jumped out to a 2-0 lead, taking the first two sets 25-22 and 25-17.
The Cavaliers started to relax, however, and let James Madison steal the next two sets, 21-25 and 24-26. During the decisive fifth set, the Cavaliers finally rediscovered their intensity and never relinquished the lead as they took the round 15-11 and match 3-2.
Although the players and coaches were undeniably happy to grab a long-awaited win, they also expressed disappointment at letting James Madison establish a presence during the match. After posting a .225 hitting percentage and 10 errors in the first two rounds, the Cavaliers only hit .066 with 19 errors during the next two. They also allowed the Dukes to improve from a .105 hitting percentage to a .270 percentage.
“We weren’t great, we didn’t do a lot of things well, but we found a way to win, which this team in the past hasn’t been able to do,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said, “It was maybe the first time we’ve grinded out a win when we weren’t playing our best.”
Virginia found the win especially gratifying after letting a similar five-set match slip against North Carolina last weekend. The players left that match vowing to tighten their defense and out-of-system hitting, a resolve evidenced by sophomore middle Morgan Blair’s 10 blocks and freshman hitter Kayla Sears’ season-high 21 kills against the Dukes.
“We definitely worked on hitting a lot and our blocking a lot, and I think that helped significantly,” freshman hitter Vivian Burcescu said. “Not just with the points we earned from blocking, but the defense was able to set up better.”
With the last of their nonconference matchups now finished, the Cavaliers return to the ACC schedule, beginning with Duke and Wake Forest.
The Blue Devils (11-10, 2-7 ACC) lost their most recent bout, a home contest against the Demon Deacons. Duke has particularly struggled at the setter position and consequently relies on physical play from its outside hitters and middles. With six players 6-foot-2 or taller, Duke has a strong presence at the net, but if the Cavaliers’ serving can force the Blue Devils out of system, they stand a good chance at their first conference win of the year.
Virginia’s next opponent, Wake Forest, is more enigmatic. The Demon Deacons have been a decidedly up-and-down team, boasting two winning streaks of three matches and losing skids of four and six matches. The one constant for Wake Forest has been preseason All-ACC middle blocker, senior Andrea Beck, who is averaging 3.26 kills per set, sixth most in the conference.
“[Beck] is one of the better players in the league,” Hohenshelt said, “They’re going to try to get her the ball. She had a lot [of] swings [against Duke], so we’re going to have to know where she is.”
Tuesday’s win against the Dukes was a tangible sign of the Cavaliers’ progress and gives them confidence that beating Duke and Wake Forest is firmly within reach. After emerging from its eight-game skid, the squad expects to come away with two victories this weekend and start a new streak of the right kind.
“To start a winning streak, you have to win,” Hohenshelt said, “As I said to them [Tuesday night], it seems like it’s been a year since we won when it’s really been a month. I told them that they should feel good because they won, but that there are things they have to improve.”
Virginia plays Wake Forest Friday at 7 p.m. and Duke Saturday at 7 p.m., both at Memorial Gym.