Cavs hit road against NC State, North Carolina
Coach embraces spoiler role for final three games
The Virginia volleyball team knows the postseason is beyond reach but has adopted a different goal for its final three matches: make others miss out as well. The Cavaliers travel to NC State and North Carolina this weekend, hoping to shatter both opponents’ NCAA Tournament dreams.
“Our job is to spoil people’s seasons right now,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. “Now you get a chance to ruin people’s seasons by putting an ‘L’ on them, so that’s our goal.”
The Cavaliers (9-19, 3-14 ACC) are coming off a win against Boston College in their final home match of the year. The team showcased its talent with a dominant 25-13 first set win, and despite conceding the next rounds, Virginia bounced back for the five-set victory, proving its potential when at its best.
“You could definitely tell how hard we worked in practice that week,” sophomore middle Morgan Blair said. “And you can tell how much better we’re getting every single weekend as the season goes on. We really just wanted to get a win for the seniors and we all performed really well to get that win for them.”
Virginia hopes to harness that momentum against NC State and North Carolina. Both teams expect to make the NCAA Tournament, but a loss to Virginia could seriously damage those chances.
The Cavaliers first look to unravel an upstart Wolfpack team (20-8, 10-7 ACC). NC State currently resides in fourth place in the ACC despite being predicted to finish eighth in the preseason. The Wolfpack’s success stems from their solid defense, which has allowed the second lowest opponent’s hitting percentage in the conference.
The team has recently looked vulnerable, however, while losing five of its last six matches, including two shocking upsets to Duke and Wake Forest. In the teams’ first meeting this season, Virginia fell 3-1 after winning the first set, registering only a .055 hitting percentage in the final three rounds. The Cavaliers hope smart attacking can help them flip the script in Friday’s rematch.
Virginia then heads up the road to Chapel Hill Saturday, where it will take on the Tar Heels (22-5, 13-4 ACC).
A model of consistency, North Carolina has met all its preseason expectations while seeking its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years. The Tar Heels are enduring a transitional period with their offense as they experiment with different formations, but that has not stopped a 10-1 run during the last five weeks.
For the Cavaliers to avenge their five-set loss to the Tar Heels earlier this year, they’ll need to communicate well and limit their mistakes against the all-around excellent North Carolina team.
Although out of the postseason hunt, these matches are far from meaningless for the Cavaliers. The team must set a new precedent of success and find confidence heading into the offseason. Virginia may not have reached its goal this season, but after two conference wins in the last two weeks, the team sees undeniable progress and hopes to lay a strong foundation for the future.
“I wanted this group to establish a history for this program, and I think they’ve done it,” Hohenshelt said. “When the next groups come in, they know what to expect, and this group knows what to expect, and I think that’s my biggest expectation: that we know where we’re headed.”