Virginia seeks strong finish to difficult road swing
First conference win still eludes team
The Virginia volleyball team will end a string of four consecutive road matches with pivotal bouts at Clemson and Georgia Tech this weekend. For the Cavaliers (5-10, 0-5 ACC) the two tilts might be their best chance to salvage a season that has recently taken a sour turn.
After starting the year 5-6, Virginia has dropped four straight matches, all in the conference. The skid started against Miami and Florida State, two of the ACC’s strongest contenders who each sport 4-1 records against conference opponents. Virginia surprised some observers by stealing the first set against the then-No. 15 Seminoles but was unable to keep up during the course of the match.
Last weekend, the Cavaliers faced Boston College and Maryland, two teams that find themselves in a similar predicament as Virginia. All three schools lack a winning tradition in volleyball and are looking to finally turn the corner.
With the chance to claim two critical victories, Virginia managed to win only one set between the matches. In separate sets against the Eagles, the Cavaliers held leads of 23-21 and 24-20, going on to lose in both instances. Against the Terrapins, the team won the first set 27-25, but failed to win again, falling 3-1.
“There were a lot of close games that we should have won, and they just slipped out of our hands at the very end,” junior libero Emily Rottman said. “We just need to push through and keep fighting through the whole game.”
Improving the team’s finishing mentality and its ability to stay strong after quality starts has been a point of emphasis this year for coach Dennis Hohenshelt.
But the Cavaliers’ difficulty with consistent play can largely be chalked up to the team’s youth. With sophomores or freshmen making up nine of the fourteen active players, trouble handling the highs and lows of matches in the season’s early going may be almost inevitable.
If the team hopes to improve on its paltry 10-win total from last year, however, the maturity it has gained through the course of the season must begin to show — the schedule does not get any easier, with mostly conference games lying ahead.
“We have to limit the errors that we’re giving,” Hohenshelt said. “That’s the biggest thing this weekend: we can’t give points to the other team, we have to make them earn them. And if they earn them and win, that’s part of the game, but we can’t just give them points. We have to be precise in what we’re doing.”
The Cavaliers will have another shot at getting win number six and their first in the ACC this weekend.
Although neither Clemson (10-6, 1-4 ACC) nor Georgia Tech (11-4, 3-2 ACC) is a pushover — each has dominated non-conference foes — either could be ripe for a minor upset by Virginia.
The Tigers are in bit of a rut themselves with only a 1-4 record in their last five matches. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets have lost back-to-back outings after winning their previous four in a row. Both squads appear vulnerable, but for the Cavaliers to find success they will have to maintain their focus throughout.
“We need lots of energy and to fight through every point,” freshman hitter Natalie Bausback said. “If we do mess up, just shake it off and worry about the next play.”