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Cavs end disappointing season, look ahead to future

After an uneven regular season in which a seven-match losing streak gave way to marked improvements, the Virginia volleyball team entered last weekend's ACC tournament looking to make a run for postseason glory.

Entering as the eighth seed, the Cavaliers (8-18) got off to a quick start on Thursday night, sweeping ninth-seeded N.C. State, 3-0 (30-24, 30-19, 30-28), in the play-in match. Led by senior outside hitter Andrea Fischer's eight kills and .545 hitting percentage, the Cavaliers recorded their third win of the season against the outclassed Wolfpack (6-21) and advanced to face top-seeded Duke (22-4) on Friday.

Despite the momentum from Thursday night, the Cavaliers quickly dropped the first two games to the Blue Devils. Battling back behind sophomore middle Shannon Boyle, who recorded a team-high 17 kills and .455 hitting percentage for the match, the Cavaliers took the third game and established a 21-15 lead in the fourth game. But the Blue Devils rebounded with a 10-4 run to take the lead and never looked back in averting the upset, 3-1 (30-21, 30-26, 25-30, 30-28).

"I thought we played well this weekend," Virginia coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton said. "We showed a lot of heart coming back from the 2-0 deficit against Duke, and we played really well against N.C. State. It was our first victory in three games since Sept. 8."

Although the loss ended the Cavaliers' postseason - the team has one remaining non-conference match at James Madison on Wednesday - this weekend's performances demonstrated how much the young Virginia team has improved over the course of the season.

"We were able to do a lot of things we've been working on - offense, defense, blocking," Aldrich Shelton said. "We had some good serving runs from people, and our passing held together the entire match. It wasn't an extraordinary occurrence, just the things that we've been working on every day in the gym."

Despite having only four upperclassmen on this year's roster, the Cavaliers entered the year hoping to earn a place among the ACC's best teams. A tough non-conference schedule - which included national powers Stanford and Minnesota - provided needed early experience, but inconsistency plagued the team the entire season. A number of young players stepped up, including Boyle, freshman setter Lily Phillips - who was named to the ACC all-freshman team - and freshman middle Alexis Geocaris, but the team was unable to play consistently and was left wondering about lost opportunities.

"It's been a year that hasn't gone the way we wanted," Shelton said. "I have been really proud of the girls for holding together, for working to stay positive when it would be really easy to become negative. They really focused, they have done all that they could in the gym and our improvements have been phenomenal. Other coaches come up to me and say that they are really amazed at how far we have come up since they first played us."

Heading into Wednesday's final match, outside hitter and co-captain Jenny Harmon said that the team is concentrating on ending this year with a win while looking forward to next year.

"Hopefully we'll play our best and end the season on positive note," she said. "I think that we have the ability, the strength that it takes to be good. I don't think we had confidence, but that comes with experience. [Next year] the team is going to be so much more amazing. We're gaining the confidence from the amazing match against Duke and playing at our best at the end of the season"


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