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Virginia drops weekend pair

Team wastes strong starts during 3-1 defeats to Clemson, Georgia Tech

The Virginia volleyball squad suffered yet another disappointing weekend in Charlottesville as it lost conference matches Friday to Clemson and Saturday to Georgia Tech, both by 3-1 scores.

"Definitely people are pretty disappointed, just because we have all the tools, but we weren't able to execute and pull it out for the win," junior setter Beth Wildermuth said. "We were so close, but at the end of the day, it's still a loss."

The weekend did not start out so badly for the Cavaliers (8-13, 2-9 ACC). The Virginia athletic department handed out clappers and Memorial Gymnasium was rocking as the Cavaliers began their first set against Clemson (14-7, 6-4 ACC) Friday night. With Virginia down 11-10 during a first set typified by the finesse game, the Cavaliers rallied to win 12 of the next 14 points. The Tigers used both of their timeouts during the stretch, but could not slow Virginia's momentum as the Cavaliers secured a commanding first-set win, 25-19.

The early domination proved short-lived, however, as Clemson handily won each of the next three sets to defeat Virginia 3-1.

"Against Clemson in set one, [we] served extremely well and were able to pass well enough to allow us to have some offensive options," coach Lee Maes said. "But that was in game one. We didn't carry the level of aggressiveness both in serving and passing that allowed us to build on that throughout the Clemson match, and once Clemson gained some momentum, we weren't able to stop that momentum so that was obviously the difference in the game."

Virginia suffered a similar fate against Georgia Tech (12-9, 5-6 ACC). The Cavaliers assumed a commanding early lead and appeared to have the set won as they led 19-12 and forced the Yellow Jackets to take their second timeout of the set.

The timely break for Georgia Tech catalyzed a 13-2 run for the visitors, however, who rallied to absolutely stun Virginia and win the first set, despite the Cavaliers' best efforts to thwart their momentum by calling two timeouts of their own.

"One of the things about playing any sport is your ability to handle the rough patches and continue fighting through the errors so that you're giving your team an opportunity to still compete for points," Maes said. "[Saturday night] versus Georgia Tech we had a big lead in set one, but our passing broke down significantly to allow Georgia Tech to get back in the match and win that set."

During the next set Georgia Tech took a sizeable 17-13 lead until, out of a timeout, it almost appeared that Virginia would rebound when it countered with a run of its own and tied the set at 18. Yet, a service error by sophomore libero Emily Rottman snowballed into a 7-2 Yellow Jacket run as Georgia Tech took a 2-0 match lead. Virginia won the third set, but lost the match when it was not able to capitalize on its momentum in the fourth.

The Cavaliers' passing game dictated the outcomes of the two matches. Maes has struggled all season to find the right lineup and the weekend's matches proved no different as he experimented with another unique lineup to stimulate and sustain effective passing for an entire match.

These specific matches saw the usual libero, Rottman, moved to an outside position while freshman Sydney Shelton started at libero.

"We had to make those type of lineup changes because, number one, Emily Rottman is our best passer and we need one of our outside hitters to be able to play six rotations all the way around," Maes said. "Whereas with Sydney Shelton, she is the best candidate that we have to fill that roll of libero because Rottman also has the ability to attack the ball for us and she's a fairly efficient player in that regard. So we're trying to give up a little bit offensively knowing that we're going to gain more with our ball handling with Emily Rottman playing outside hitter."

While the lineup changes may not have paid dividends on the scoreboard, Shelton did lead the team in contributing 24 digs throughout the weekend while Rottman recorded 12 total kills during the two matches. Senior outside hitter Simone Asque led the team with 27 total kills on the weekend.

This weekend, Virginia travels to the Sunshine State to face Miami and Florida State this Friday and Sunday, respectively, as the team looks to tally two huge ACC wins.