The Virginia volleyball team opened its season with a straight-set victory against The Citadel Friday night at Memorial Gymnasium despite missing multiple starters. The final score read 25-20, 25-21, 25-23.
While the Cavaliers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) took some time to get going, the Bulldogs (0-3, 0-0 Southern Conference) — who already had two games under their belt — took advantage, jumping out to a 12-5 lead in the first set. Coach Aaron Smith called a timeout to regroup, sparking a comeback effort from the Cavaliers.
“Coach Smitty said to us, ‘Let’s go. It’s time to turn it on,’ and that’s what we did,” senior outside hitter Sarah Billiard said.
On the next point, sophomore middle blocker Mattison Matthews emphatically spiked the ball over the net to win the point and start Virginia’s rally. The Cavaliers scored nine of the next 11 points following the timeout, evening the score at 14-14. Billiard then recorded a block to give the Cavaliers the lead, which they held onto for the remainder of the set. Sophomore outside hitter Simone Dominique closed the set out with a kill, sealing a 25-20 win for the Cavaliers.
The second set proved to be more competitive — neither side managed to gain a significant advantage early on. With the score tied at eight points apiece, Virginia rattled off three consecutive points to take the lead, but the Bulldogs battled back and tied the score at 18-18. The teams proceeded to trade points until it was 21-21 when the Cavaliers went on a 4-0 run to take a 2-0 advantage in the match.
The Citadel came out with a higher sense of urgency in the third set as they tried to avoid being swept. The Bulldogs led for much of the set and looked close to winning with a 22-19 advantage, but Virginia was ready to respond. Billiard delivered a crucial kill for Virginia and sophomore Maddie Boylston recorded two consecutive aces to tie the match at 22-22. The Citadel retook the lead after an error by Matthews, but a kill from sophomore outside hitter Simone Dominique and two blocks by the Cavaliers allowed Virginia to take the set — and the match.
Billiard led the Cavaliers with nine kills while senior libero Alex Spencer added six. Freshman libero Madison Morey shined in her first collegiate game, leading the team with 20 digs.
“Coming off the court tonight, I had three or four fans come up to me and tell me, ‘Man, your libero is awesome,’” Smith said. “To hear those compliments is nice, but I think she and I both know that this is only the beginning, and that she’s going to be way better moving forward.”
Missing several starters — including senior outside hitter Grace Turner and junior middle blocker Milla Ciprian — from their lineup, several Cavaliers had to step up to deliver a win. Both Spencer and senior outside hitter Christine Jarman were forced to play out of position against the Bulldogs.
“I’m super impressed by all the people that stepped up into roles that they’re not used to,” Billiard said. “They really showed up, and it shows how versatile we are.”
It was a smaller crowd than usual at Memorial Gymnasium as only family members of players and coaching staff were allowed to attend the match, per Virginia Athletics’ rules on fan attendance for the fall. However, players said that they still felt the impact of the home support.
“We were not expecting to have a big, loud atmosphere this year, and they really surprised us,” Billiard said. “I think it gave us a boost. It was exciting to have people there. It definitely makes a difference.”
Virginia returns to action at home in two weeks with a pair of ACC matches against Duke. The teams will face each other Oct. 2 at 6:30 p.m. before playing again at the same time the following night.