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Volleyball hits the road for two conference contests

After splitting pair of games last weekend, Cavaliers face No. 12 UNC, Virginia Tech

The Virginia women’s volleyball team will play its first two ACC road games this weekend, traveling to take on 12th-ranked North Carolina Friday and in-state foe Virginia Tech Sunday.

The Cavaliers (10-7, 3-1) have won three of their first four conference games, including a 3-1 win against Louisville last Saturday, and they’re looking to continue their early success.

“We know we want to be better, and we know we want stay on top of the ACC and prove ourselves,” sophomore outside hitter Haley Kole said.

But to do so Virginia must overcome its struggles away from home. The Cavaliers won their first road game of the season, 3-0, against Marshall in the Thunder Invite, but they are 0-3 on other teams’ home courts since and 3-3 at neutral sites.

In the most recent road game, a Tuesday night match two weeks ago against Liberty, Virginia fell in five sets after holding a 2-1 lead. The team wants to end its road woes in the next two games, but it won’t come against easy competition.

“[Both games] are on the road,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. “We’re going to have to learn how win on the road a little bit. It’s two matches against two good teams, and we’re going to have to be ready to play.”

Virginia currently sits fourth in the ACC, just below the Tar Heels (12-2, 3-1), who have won three consecutive games after getting shut out in their conference opener against ACC leader No. 4 Florida State.

“UNC’s really good right now,” Hohenshelt said. “I think they’re one of the top three teams in the league.”

North Carolina’s senior libero Ece Taner leads the ACC in aces per set, and junior middle blockers Victoria McPherson and Paige Neuenfeldt rank third and fourth in blocks per set, respectively. Last year, the Cavaliers lost to the Tar Heels twice, and they are just 14-43 in the all-time series. But the team remains optimistic that North Carolina is beatable.

“We’re definitely excited to play UNC away and maybe steal a win from them,” Kole said.

After Friday’s game, the Cavaliers will head to Blacksburg to face rival Virginia Tech (8-8, 1-2). The Hokies have lost at home against Louisville and at Wake Forest, both teams Virginia has defeated.

“Virginia Tech had a real nice win Saturday against NC State to get their first ACC win of the season,” Hohenshelt said. “They’re really good. It’s a Virginia-Virginia Tech matchup and everyone’s going to be hungry for it.”

This season, Virginia Tech has looked to sophomore outside hitter Lindsey Owens on offense. Owens leads the team in kills at 211, while two other players — senior middle blocker Kathryn Caine and sophomore outside hitter Amanda McKinzie — each have more than 100 kills on the year. The Hokies rank eighth in the conference in both hitting percentage and opponent hitting percentage, perfectly middle-of-the-pack, and their defense at the net hasn’t been the best, 11th out of 15 teams in the ACC at 2.19 blocks per set.

The Cavaliers have some major issues of their own to fix this weekend, with a particular focus on improving their defensive play and fixing their streaky-serving woes. At .235, Virginia is allowing the second-worst hitting percentage to opponents among all ACC teams, trailed only by Notre Dame at .241. The Cavaliers have also been extremely error-prone from the service stripe, committing 167 service errors this season — 41 more than their opponents.

“We get pretty hot for about five or six straight points and then we start to lose our focus,” Hohenshelt said. “Serving is the one individual thing in this game that you can control. We serve every day and we’ll continue to serve and try to get better at it.”

This third weekend of ACC play will be a strong indicator of where the Cavaliers stand in the conference realm.

“We all want to win,” sophomore libero Karlie Suber said. “We all have the same mindset going into this weekend — win at all costs. “

Game time against North Carolina is set for 6 p.m., while Sunday’s game at 1 p.m. against Virginia Tech will be broadcast online on ESPN 3.