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Team eyes weekend wins

Sibling showdown takes center stage as Virginia seeks to buck Broncos

The Virginia volleyball team closed a disappointing 2010 season by dropping its final two sets to arch-rival Virginia Tech. Combined with preseason predictions of a ninth-place conference finish, the Cavaliers have all the bulletin-board material they need to rebound from their first back-to-back losing seasons since 2001-2002; now they just need to do it.

"Last season - and obviously the Virginia Tech game because they're our rivals and it was a tough five-set match - left us all hungry to come back and do better this season," junior middle blocker Jessica O'Shoney said. "The season as a whole was disappointing, so [we want] to get back in there and show the ACC what we've got, because last year was not what we expected to happen."

Virginia will have its first chance to prove pundits wrong this weekend, as it hosts the annual Marriott Cavalier Classic. The team views these tournament matchups as the perfect platform to return to its winning ways.

"A lot of the time [coach] Lee [Maes] schedules really tough preseason competition," O'Shoney said. "I think we had four or five teams from the ACC go to the NCAA Tournament last year, [so] with the really tough tournaments that we have before conference play it really gets us ready for the next challenge."

This weekend's challenge features regional tests against USC Upstate and Western Carolina, as well as a Western Michigan group Maes described as "a very athletic, fast, dynamic team and one of the top 50 ones in the country last year."

The Cavaliers' season-opening battle with the Broncos takes on additional significance this year for at least two players; senior outside hitter Simone Asque's younger sister, sophomore outside hitter Gillian Asque, suits up for Western Michigan, and all illusions of sibling niceties disappear once the first serve flies.

"The whole family's coming in to watch the game," Simone Asque said. "We've been smack talking as soon as we found out. Even yesterday, she said, 'You better get ready, I'm coming to Virginia tomorrow.' I said, 'I was born ready; I was born first.'"

Simone Asque said the sisters played together in high school, but this will be their first serious matchup, and all signs point to a hotly contested match.

"I'm a very intense player, and it runs in the family, so it definitely will be a loud game," Simone Asque said. "My team has the height advantage but her team is very fast, so it'll be a good matchup."

A talented Simone Asque, however, hardly needs the extra intensity to control the floor. The same preseason poll that tabbed the Cavaliers as ninth in conference also awarded her preseason All-ACC honors. The senior became the 15th Cavalier to hit the 1,000 kill mark last season, and her coach only expects her to improve this year.

"She's matured into the role of leader in our program, and it's also evident in her continued development as a volleyball player," Maes said. "She has an immense volleyball IQ; she continues to be one of the top attackers in the nation. She's been wonderful to coach and we expect her to have a fantastic season."

Asque is one of 10 returning Virginia players this year, but one name is notably absent from the roster. Last year's NCAA East Region and ACC Freshman of the Year McKenzie Adams did not return to the team this season.

"We appreciate her contributions to our volleyball program - she's a very talented player - but she's no longer with our program because she wasn't able to adhere to the responsibilities of a student-athlete here at Virginia," Maes said. "We made a mutual decision to move in a different direction, so our focus now is on our team and maximizing the players that we have in our program.

It's been a great environment in our gym to see all the players come together, play for each other, and know we all have shared goals."

The Cavalier's match against Western Michigan begins at 7 p.m. today, with a doubleheader following Saturday.

-Charles Holtsford contributed to this article.