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Squad seeks morale boost

Virginia hopes to halt downward spiral in second go-around with ACC rivals

Having lost 12 of its last 14 contests, the Virginia volleyball team hopes to end its major slide with road rematches against Duke and Wake Forest this weekend.

The Cavaliers (8-15, 2-11 ACC) currently sit second to last in the conference standings. Wins against the Blue Devils (15-7, 9-4 ACC) and the Demon Deacons (5-18, 2-11 ACC) - whom the Cavaliers downed 3-1 at home last month - would go far in giving the squad confidence during its last month of competition.

"We expect to come out and play really well against Wake Forest again because we lost the first game to them the previous round, then ... dominated them the next three," junior right side Tobi Farrar said. "We should be fine with them again. [For] the Duke match ... we've prepared again like we really want to beat them because it'd be a really big win, and it's on the road."

The test against the Blue Devils comes first as the two squads will square off tomorrow night. Duke was swept by Clemson last weekend but rebounded with a big 3-1 win against Georgia Tech during its next match to remain as the No. 4 team in the ACC standings. Senior setter Kellie Catanach and junior middle blocker Christiana Gray each played pivotal roles in the victory as Catanach collected her 5,000th career assist, and Gray contributed a team-high 15 kills.

Farrar believes that during Virginia's narrow 3-2 loss against the Blue Devils last month, the Cavaliers focused too much on stopping Gray and thus failed to stymie the Blue Devils, such as senior middle blocker Sophia Dunworth. Dunworth, a four-year starter for Duke, recorded 22 kills during the first matchup between the teams.

"We just didn't execute," Farrar said. "We didn't think that Sophia was going to be as big of a threat as she was, so this time we know that. We need to take everyone on that team seriously."

A day after its clash with Duke, Virginia will take on Wake Forest, and look to sweep the Demon Deacons in the season series. Wake Forest limps into the weekend currently in the midst of a six-game losing streak, including disappointments against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Commonwealth last weekend.

Coach Lee Maes believes the Cavaliers' secret to defeating the Demon Deacons for a second time is clear and simple: serving.

"Probably the No. 1 key to success against Wake Forest for us was our ability to serve well enough to get them out of system," Maes said. "That really made their offense very predictable ... We have to be able to continue putting enough pressure on their offense with our serving. If we can do that I think we'll be in great shape to have a similar success." Identifying the key areas for success is an easy task for Maes; getting his team to execute, however, may be a more difficult job for the fourth-year coach, who saw his team swept twice last weekend by Miami and Florida State.

"We're trying to bandage a lot of things on our team right now," Maes said. "[W]ith this past week's performance, the reality is that we weren't very good for both matches, and a lot of that had to do with both the other teams playing very well and very consistent, especially with the serving and passing game."

Maes expects the service game to determine the outcome of this weekend's matches as he believes Duke and Wake Forest are "more physical" than his own squad. Thus, Virginia must limit avoidable mistakes and get off to fast starts against both its opponents if the squad hopes to come away with its third and fourth conference victories of the 2011 campaign.

Following this weekend, Virginia returns home Nov. 11 to begin a five-game home stand.