TOBIN: What is wrong with Virginia women’s volleyball?
In their last 16 games, the Virginia women’s volleyball team has suffered 13 losses. Last season, through 31 games, the Cavaliers lost the same number — 13. Stating the obvious, it has not been a good season for Virginia volleyball.
The Cavaliers have not been historically strong in women’s volleyball. Never in the team’s history has it won a conference title. The last time it qualified to compete in the NCAA tournament was in 1999. In fact, the only other time the Cavaliers had even qualified for that tournament — which accepts 64 teams every year — was the previous year, 1998. Even then, Virginia’s performance was abysmal, as it lost to its first opponent and failed to move past the first round each time.
Yet, even with their poor history, this season has been particularly memorable — or forgettable — for Virginia women’s volleyball (3-13, 0-4 ACC). The team currently sits at the bottom of the ACC with an 18.8 percent winning percentage. It has not won a single game on neutral territory. Worst of all, it has lost half its games in straight sets.
All of this information begs the question — what is wrong with Virginia women’s volleyball? Here are some of my diagnoses for the poor performance by the team.
For any team to be successful, it needs veteran players to serve as anchors. Seniority can be a key to victory, especially in the sport of volleyball, where athletes typically stay on the team for all four of their college years,
Yet, Virginia only touts three seniors in its usual 12-person rotation — Haley Kole, Jasmine Burton and Lexi Riccolo. Meanwhile, half of the rotation is composed of freshmen that have never had a taste of volleyball at the collegiate level, where the competition is much tougher.
With anything at a higher level, there is a learning curve for playing volleyball in college. That, compounded with the fact that this team has not had much time to build up chemistry, partially explains the poor results of this season.
Still, there is hope yet for Virginia volleyball. After all, although the team is suffering now, the fact that there are so many freshmen getting time on the court now means that the Cavaliers will have an experienced, united bunch that may be able to make a run in a few seasons. This season’s prospects may be bleak, but Virginia volleyball definitely has the potential for a future upswing.
In its 38 seasons of existence, Virginia volleyball has only had seven different coaches. Its seventh and most recent hire, Dennis Hohenshelt, has a 65-76 record in his four-and-a-half seasons at Virginia.
With winning records in his past three seasons, it would not be fair to blame all of Virginia’s woes on Hohenshelt. Yet, when a team performs so poorly that it is only projected to have six wins for the season at its current trajectory, some of the blame must fall on the coach.
Whatever Hohenshelt has been doing with his team this year has not been working. Since his team continues to lose, going 1-13 following a promising 2-0 start to the season, Hohenshelt must change something if he doesn’t want 2016 to be one of the worst seasons in Virginia volleyball’s history.
Last season, the ACC had four teams qualify for the NCAA tournament: North Carolina, Miami, Florida State and Louisville. With the rate at which several teams are playing this year, the conference may add one or two more representatives to compete in the postseason.
Currently, four of the 15 teams in the ACC have an undefeated record in conference play. A little under half of them have a winning record, with North Carolina leading the pack at 12-2.
Simply, with the level of competition in the ACC this season, it is difficult for the Cavaliers to find wins anywhere. This explains their 0-4 record in the conference, including two losses to opponents with winning records.
Additionally, in their nine losses to out-of-conference opponents, seven came against opponents with winning records. Thus, with a relatively difficult first-half schedule, combined with an inexperienced squad and poor coaching, the Cavaliers have not been able to achieve much success.
Ben Tobin is a weekly sports columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @TobinBen.