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Volleyball falls flat against Virginia Tech

After third consecutive 3-1 loss, Cavaliers face uphill climb to first NCAA bid since 1999

<p>Sophomore outside hitter Haley Kole had 10 kills as the Cavaliers dropped to 1-1 against Virginia Tech this season. </p>

Sophomore outside hitter Haley Kole had 10 kills as the Cavaliers dropped to 1-1 against Virginia Tech this season. 

In the latest edition of the Commonwealth Clash, the Virginia volleyball team fell against rival Virginia Tech Friday night, 3-1 (24-26, 25-18, 25-21, 25-20). The Cavaliers jumped out to a 1-0 lead but proceeded to drop the next three sets, splitting the season series with the Hokies after a comeback 3-2 win Oct. 12 in Blacksburg.

“I think overall we were disappointed with how we played,” sophomore outside hitter Haley Kole said. “We definitely didn’t come out with the intensity we wanted to. I think it’ll definitely eat away at us this week.”

The loss marks the third in a row for Virginia (15-12, 8-6 ACC), who suffered a pair of 3-1 defeats against No. 3 Florida State and Miami on the road last weekend. This could prove a serious hit to the Cavaliers’ NCAA Tournament hopes, as — lacking a signature win this season — they likely needed to finish undefeated against the middle and bottom of the ACC to maintain chances of a bid.

Virginia has not been selected to the postseason tournament since 1999, when the team finished 19-12.

“We’re not very good right now, and that’s on me, because I’m not doing a very good job of getting us peaking at the right time when we need to be,” coach Dennis Hohenshelt said. “My answer to them is, 'Let’s come in Monday and go to work.’ That’s the only way I know how to do it, to fix those things — but for sure, we’re not very good in any aspect of the game, and it was a little disappointing with our effort tonight.”

Possibly the biggest issue for the Cavaliers on the night was passing. Assists and digs per set against Virginia Tech were both below season averages — 10.75 and 10, respectively, compared to 12.4 and 13.3 on the year. Though starting setter junior Lauren Fuller was not far off her season average for assists — 10 per set Friday versus 10.64 for the year — she had trouble getting off quality passes, contributing to the team’s poor .145 hitting percentage. Because Virginia is not its strongest on defense — ranking in the bottom half of the ACC in both blocks and digs per set — getting off good passes is a must.

“The first thing is we’re going to have to pass the ball,” Hohenshelt said. “It’s been our Achilles heel all year. We’ve gotten away with it and it finally caught up to us the last three matches. Lauren [Fuller] wasn’t good tonight, she knows she wasn’t good tonight. I didn’t think Natalie [Bausback] was great tonight, and she knows she wasn’t great tonight. But someone’s got to help those guys out when they’re not great, they can’t carry us all game all year.”

The Hokies, meanwhile, were ready to take advantage of any mistakes — a skill they lacked in the October match between the teams. Virginia Tech outhit the Cavaliers in all four sets, including the first frame which Virginia won despite hitting a meager .038. Hokie senior outside hitter Kathryn Caine — second among the team’s starters in hitting percentage — led all players with eight kills on the night, committing two errors on 13 total attacks.

“I thought [Virginia] Tech was really good tonight, and they played a lot harder than us,” Hohenshelt said. “They’re making plays and we’re standing watching the ball fly around, and that’s not how we play.”

Though the Cavaliers are currently mired in a three-match losing streak, but the team still aims to finish the season strong. With three wins in the final four games, Virginia could finish with its best season winning percentage since 2007, while winning all four would yield its best percentage since 2006. But first the team will need to fix its mistakes, many of which were on display Friday night.

“We could have had a lot more energy, we could have had each other’s backs,” Fuller said. “It really just starts Monday in the gym, and we need to start practicing a lot harder and not being complacent with what we’re doing, because it’s not OK.”

The Cavaliers close out their home schedule next weekend, hosting a pair of games at Memorial Gymnasium. Up first is Georgia Tech Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a senior day match against Pittsburgh at 1 p.m Sunday.