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Volleyball downs Georgia Tech, falls to Pittsburgh on senior day

Cavaliers clinch winning record, honor seniors Janowski, Blair, Shelton, Welborn

<p>Senior outside hitter Tori Janowski competed inside Memorial Gymnasium for the last time Sunday afternoon. She has 1,182 kills in her Virginia career. </p>

Senior outside hitter Tori Janowski competed inside Memorial Gymnasium for the last time Sunday afternoon. She has 1,182 kills in her Virginia career. 

Closing out its 2014 home schedule, the Virginia volleyball team hosted Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh this past weekend. The Cavaliers defeated the Yellow Jackets, 3-1, Friday evening before falling against the Panthers, 3-1, on senior day Sunday afternoon.

Opening the weekend with the win against Georgia Tech (12-17, 5-11 ACC), Virginia (16-13, 9-7 ACC) clinched a winning record for the second year in a row after having no winning seasons since 2008. The match got off to a rocky start for the Cavaliers, who dropped the first set 25-23 despite out-hitting the Yellow Jackets .256 to .244 in the frame. But the team bounced back and claimed the next three sets — 25-18, 25-21 and 25-21 — to take the match.

Outside hitters senior Tori Janowski and sophomore Haley Kole each tallied 14 kills to lead the team, while sophomore Jasmine Burton also reached double digits with 12 kills. Sophomore defensive specialist Lexi Riccolo added a team-high 14 digs in four sets, surpassing her season average of 2.96 digs per set. The Cavaliers had the edge in hitting percentage (.298 to .235), blocks (8 to 5) and aces (6 to 4).

“I think when we play at a pretty high level and do some things, we’re pretty darn good,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. “What we’re still working on with this group — and it’s been a work in progress all year — is playing at that high level for long periods of time.”

Virginia was back on the court two days later for the team’s final home match against Pitt (23-6, 11-5 ACC), a team which has had much more success this year than the Yellow Jackets. The Panthers opened the season 13-1, and are sitting at fifth place in the ACC. Star senior outside hitter Jessica Wynn suffered a knee injury before the team’s Nov. 7 match against Duke, but Pitt kept rolling, picking up four wins in six games since then, including an upset of the No. 21 Blue Devils.

Before the match, the Cavaliers honored their four seniors — Janowski, middle hitter Morgan Blair, and defensive specialists Sydney Shelton and Abbey Welborn. The four were recruited by and played their first season under past coach Lee Maes, with Hohenshelt arriving between their first and second years at Virginia. They saw the team go from nine wins in 2012 to 18 in 2013 — a total they could match this year with victories in the final two matches.

“They’ve meant so much to the team,” junior middle hitter Natalie Bausback said. “Tori, one of the best players on our team. Morgan, she’s been having a really good season this year. Sydney and [Abbey], they work hard every day in practice, they get us better every day. All four of them are going to be missed a lot.”

The Panthers took control of the net early, hitting at .400 or above in each of the first two sets en route to winning them 25-18 and 25-15. The Cavaliers only posted three blocks through those first two frames, both coming in the second. Virginia did not hit especially poorly in the two sets — .273 and .240, respectively — but just could not match Pitt’s physicality.

“They didn’t do anything we didn’t think they were going to do,” Hohenshelt said. “They were just physical, and what we have to figure out is how to match these teams that are really good in the league when they’re physical at the net. They served tough, we’ve got to be better passing. They do a little bit of everything a little bit better than us.”

After the break, the Cavaliers came out looking like a different team, playing more physically and shutting down the Panther attack. Virginia posted seven blocks in the frame and held Pitt to a .000 hitting percentage, never trailing on the way to a 25-22 win. Bausback sparked the performance with a number of big plays at the net, and finished the day with a career-high-tying nine blocks as well as a .421 hitting percentage.

“During halftime, we really talked about being more disciplined and everyone’s position, taking care of your personal little things on the court,” Janowski said. “I think we did that really well in the third game, and it wasn’t there during the first, second or fourth. If we’d done that for longer periods of time we would’ve won.”

In the fourth set, the Cavaliers could not keep up what they did in the third, falling back to the same mistakes they made in the first half. The Panthers hit 16 kills on only three errors, taking the frame 25-14, and the match 3-1.

Though it was not the way the Virginia seniors would have liked to finish their last match at Memorial Gymnasium, players said they were still proud of what they had been able to accomplish in their four years.

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Janowski said. “It’s something that I’ll always cherish, and I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity to play here. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

The Cavaliers play at Boston College (11-16, 6-10 ACC) Wednesday at 1 p.m., and will bring the season to an end Friday at Syracuse (8-20, 1-15 ACC) at 7 p.m.