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Cavaliers aim to clip competition

Squad could snap lengthy skid, rise from ACC cellar with wins against rivals

After falling to the bottom of the ACC standings following a disappointing, two-loss road trip last weekend, the Virginia volleyball team looks to make up ground this weekend as it welcomes Boston College and Maryland to Charlottesville for the beginning of a five-game homestand.

The Cavaliers (8-17, 2-13 ACC), who suffered losses against Duke and Wake Forest most recently, are currently in the midst of a six-game losing skid and have not earned a victory since Oct. 15. In addition, Virginia has won more than one set in a single match only once in almost a month.

"Our team is dealing with some adversity, and [this past weekend] was an opportunity for our team to rise above the things our team has to go through," Virginia coach Lee Maes said. "The hardest thing that we have to learn is - can we manage dealing with different types of stress when we're on the road?"

Although the squad will appear in the friendly confines of Memorial Gym for the remainder of the regular season, Virginia will continue to deal with the stresses associated with a constant roster shake-up among the defensive unit. Freshman libero Sydney Shelton and sophomore libero Emily Rottman have continued to appear interchangeably as the Cavaliers' defensive specialist, which has forced the rest of the Cavaliers to adjust to both players' differing styles of play. Rottman and Shelton have also needed to adjust to new positions.

"Every single day in practice we're ... changing things up, so we're used to playing with everyone on the court," junior setter Beth Wildermuth said. "But I know it has sometimes [been] a little difficult for the [defensive specialists] to sometimes step in and play positions that they're not used to, or [for example], Emily Rottman switching between libero or outside. But everyone's doing a great job when they have to fill in the spots."

Despite Virginia's lack of consistency, the squad continues to stay positive, as evident by its post-practice ritual. Following every weekly practice, the Cavaliers rush to a white board to give themselves grades in six different aspects of teamwork - a task Maes hopes will strengthen team unity, especially during such a difficult stretch.

"We have a gym culture that we've established to lay the foundation for what our expectations are for us," Maes said. "Those six things are effort, attitude, attentiveness, communication, competitiveness and improvement. So that's our expectation of the things that they have control and influence on in the gym, and that is our culture ... How they function in that culture and how they meet those expectations has an influence on their role on this team."

Although Maes said the recent teamwork grades reflect hard work in the gym on a day-to-day basis, the Cavaliers must execute their game plan with consistency this weekend if they hope to avenge early-season losses against the Eagles (7-19, 3-12 ACC) and the Terrapins (9-18, 3-12 ACC).

In late September, Virginia dropped a 3-2 five-setter against Maryland, allowing three Terrapins to record double-digit kills, before putting forth a paltry .178 hitting percentage during a 3-1 setback against Boston College.

Should Virginia manage to outduel the Terrapins and the Eagles, the squad could potentially rise out of last place in the conference as both Maryland and Boston College sit precariously on the edge of the conference basement with lackluster records.

Maes, however, is encouraging his team to forget about records and to play as if it possessed a clean, 0-0 slate - especially for the senior members of the team whose careers are almost over.

"We're excited for the opportunity that we still have five matches," Maes said, "We're taking one match at a time with the optimism that every match is a chance for us to compete and strive for victory"