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Virginia comes up short against Tigers

The Virginia volleyball team fell Saturday night in five hard-fought games to ACC rival Clemson, 3-2 (30-27, 20-30, 30-25, 27-30, 15-8), before a raucous senior night crowd at University Hall by displaying the frustrating mixture of brilliance and inconsistency that has marked its entire season.

Despite season-best performances from outside hitter Andrea Fischer - Virginia's lone departing player - and freshman middle Alexis Geocaris, the Cavaliers again saw their nerves betray them in the clutch. After coming back from behind twice to force the fifth game, Virginia saw an early 5-4 lead evaporate in the deciding game as the Tigers sealed the victory with an 11-4 run.

"In the fifth game we did tense up," Virginia junior outside hitter and co-captain Jenny Harmon said. "We definitely weren't playing with the same emotion that we had for the first four. We were afraid that we would mess up and not win, instead of just trying to go out there and win and take the fifth game."

The loss cost Virginia (7-17, 3-13 ACC) the seventh seed in this week's ACC tournament, and will require them to play in the play-in match against N.C. State on Thursday night.

Although disappointed by the recurrent outcome, Virginia coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton said she was happy with the Cavaliers' performance.

"The girls played well tonight," Aldrich Shelton said. "I'm pleased with what they did. We've had trouble being a pressure performer all year, and it was very evident when we got in the fifth game. Nobody wants to make the big play, no one has enough confidence or enough determination to be the one to win the game."

Led by outside hitters Leslie Finn and Ryane Beasley, who would combine in the match for 45 kills, the Tigers (10-16, 4-12) won a sloppy first game in which the Cavaliers committed six service errors.

Virginia responded by playing nearly flawlessly in the second game. Taking the lead at 8-7, strong services by Harmon, and Geocardis' two blocks and four kills saw the Cavaliers run out to a 24-16 lead. Fischer sealed the second game with two service aces, extending her own career record. With four aces in her final home match, Fischer now has 150 in her Virginia career.

Virginia's inconsistency surfaced ominously in the third game, as a 20-17 Cavaliers' lead unraveled following a Clemson timeout. The Tigers put together a 7-1 run to lead 24-18, and despite a pair of late kills from Fischer, strong finishing from Clemson middle Lori Ashton shut the door on the Cavaliers.

In the fourth game, Virginia established an early 7-2 lead behind the offense of Fischer and setter Abby Whittenburg. The Cavaliers would never trail in the game, and a powerful left-handed kill by outside hitter Katie Synan - one of six Cavaliers to reach double figures in kills on the night - forced the ill-fated game five.

While the strong all-around performance by Geocaris (13 kills, .522 hitting percentage) and other underclassmen gave hope to the young team for the future, this night was deservedly Fischer's, who finished with 19 kills, seven digs, four aces and a .389 hitting percentage.

"Andrea Fischer had a career night," Shelton said. "It was her best night of the year in hitting percentage and kills. She picked a great game to end her career at U-Hall on."

"I just went all out," Fischer said. "There was nothing to lose. I knew it was our last chance at U-Hall"


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