Volleyball drops two matches at home

Cavaliers fail to win a set in either home matchup

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Senior outside hitter lead the Cavaliers with 11 kills in Friday's matchup against No. 12 Florida State, but her efforts were insufficient to secure victory. 

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

Despite the optimism for a big weekend series that mounted in a solid week of practice, the Virginia volleyball team wasn’t able to pull out a win. The team lost in straight sets to both No. 12 Florida State Friday and Miami Saturday.

Facing the nationally-ranked Seminoles (16-3, 9-1 ACC) Friday was bound to be a tough test for the Cavaliers (4-18, 1-9 ACC), but the team’s hard play kept them toe-to-toe with one of the best programs in the country in all three sets. Senior outside hitters Haley Kole and Jasmine Burton led Virginia with 11 kills each.

“We just played hard on Friday, and that’s at least half the battle for us,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. “Whether we win or lose, [Friday] night is how I want this team to play. If we don’t play like that, we’re just wasting our time.”

In Hohenshelt’s assessment, however, that fierce level of play did not fully translate into Saturday’s matchup against Miami (9-13, 3-7 ACC).

“We weren’t very good tonight,” Hohenshelt said. “For how much effort we put in last night, it just wasn’t there tonight.”

In their matchup against the Hurricanes, the Cavaliers faced the ACC leader in hitting percentage in junior outside hitter Olga Strantzali. Strantzali thrived against Virginia, leading Miami with 14 kills.

“We knew that 50 percent of their offense runs through Olga,” Kole said. “And we weren’t able to stop her tonight even after scouting her all week.”

Hohenshelt added that even when the Cavaliers’ appeared to be swinging the point into their favor, Olga would counteract their efforts.

“The problem was we were forcing them into bad passes,” Hohenshelt said. “And she would just bail them out of trouble. She’s taken the most swings in the league, and we knew it coming in.”

Against both Florida State and Miami, Virginia continued to show its biggest flaw — its inability to close out sets. The team has shown it has the talent to go point-for-point with most opponents but hasn’t been able to win close sets thus far.

“We need to stay confident those last five points like we are for the first 20,” Kole said. “We get scared the last five points, and that’s something we’ve got to work on in practice so we can get it right in games.”

The Cavaliers undoubtedly have the talent to be competitive with tough opponents as shown by their numerous tight contests, but their youth has limited them in crunch time as experience breeds effectiveness and level of play. At this point in the season, Hohenshelt and Kole are keenly aware of the importance of upperclassmen leadership in keeping the young team motivated to keep improving.

“There’s five weeks left in the season, and we have a choice — roll over or play and practice harder,” Hohenshelt said. “I told them as a group they have to make that choice. We have to be in attack mode going forward.”

If there is one aspect of the team that is especially evident when watching them work in practice, it is that they play hard regardless of the circumstances. Though the wins haven’t been there, the team has respected the process of building with young players and have not given up in their drive to improve.

The Cavaliers will head south next weekend to face the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (17-5, 8-2 ACC) Friday and the Clemson Tigers (6-15, 1-8 ACC) Saturday. The Cavaliers faced both teams in a home weekend series in early October, falling to the Yellow Jackets before defeating the Tigers in their most recent victory. As conference play reaches its midpoint, the Cavaliers will look to keep pushing for improvement so they can make the most of the time they have left this season.

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