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Virginia hopes to finish off season strong

As it begins its final home stand of the season against Georgia Tech tonight, the Virginia volleyball team will be looking to gather wins and momentum before heading into next week's ACC tournament. Defeats of Georgia Tech and Clemson would catapult the Cavaliers into the postseason on a winning streak and fuel hope of atoning for a season that hasn't been as bright as hoped.

To accomplish that feat, though, Virginia (7-15, 3-11 ACC) will have to overcome two ACC foes that gave it fits earlier this year. The Cavaliers played back-to-back road matches against the Yellow Jackets and Tigers last month, and after being swept, 3-0, in both matches, they know that they will have to bring their best game to succeed.

"It's going to be really tough," Virginia coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton said. "Both teams are doing well. Georgia Tech is tied for third right now in the conference, so they'll be a very strong team. Even though Clemson's record is the same as ours, their team stats are way above ours. It's amazing to me that they are losing as much as they are, because statistically they should be winning a lot of games."

The Yellow Jackets (16-6, 10-4) are paced by senior outside Maja Pachale, last week's co-ACC player of the week.

Pachale's ACC-best 4.61 kills per game has led Tech to 16.16 kills per game, good for second in the conference. The Jackets' .245 team hitting percentage is also second in the conference.

Depending on tonight's results - Clemson is at Maryland - tomorrow night's match could determine who earns the seventh seeding at the ACC tournament. The Cavaliers currently are tied with the Tigers (8-15, 3-11) and a win would help Virginia secure the seed and avoid the tournament play-in match.

"I think that Clemson is very well matched against us," senior outside hitter and co-captain Jenny Harmon said. "I think that we should have won the [first] game on the road. We were very close, but I think our inconsistency just killed us there. I think that if we stay solid the whole match we'll be fine against Clemson and hopefully beat the Tigers."

Saturday night's match also will be the last home match for senior outside hitter Andrea Fischer, who is Virginia record-holder for most career service aces.

"Drea's had a fantastic career," Shelton said. "From being on the all-ACC rookie team her first year to what's she's been able to contribute her last three seasons of eligibility, she has been tremendous. She's a really hard worker who gets the job done, and a great leader. The girls really look up to her for her experience."

As the team prepares mentally and physically for this weekend - with practices and team meetings helping to create focus - conflicting emotions have begun to arise as the opportunities and closures of the season's end approach.

"It's exciting and sad that this is our last home weekend," Harmon said. "I know personally that I want us to go out with a bang this season. It'd be great to have two big time wins at home going right into the ACC tournament. I think that that will give us a big confidence boost to go in and play our best, and to really believe in ourselves. It's time to show what we have, there's no holding back now, there's nothing to lose right now"


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