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Volleyball set to face Duke Friday

The Cavaliers travel to Durham looking to snap a five-game losing streak

<p>The return of junior middle blocker Milla Ciprian should provide a big boost for a Cavalier squad searching for its first ACC win.&nbsp;</p>

The return of junior middle blocker Milla Ciprian should provide a big boost for a Cavalier squad searching for its first ACC win. 

Virginia volleyball will travel to Durham, N.C. to face Duke Friday, as the two ACC foes face off for the second time this season following the postponement of the Oct. 3 matchup due to COVID-19 and injury related issues within the Virginia squad. The first game was played in Charlottesville on Oct 2. and resulted in the sweep of the Cavaliers (1-5, 0-5 ACC), as the Blue Devils (5-2, 5-2 ACC) dominated all three sets. 

After giving NC State its first two wins of the season this past weekend, the Cavaliers are looking to bounce back. Virginia hasn’t been able to secure a win since its opening match and has yet to find a conference win this season. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, have enjoyed a successful season so far as they find themselves near the top of the ACC standings. After storming out the gates, winning its first three matches, Duke has slowed down, dropping two of its last four matches. Virginia will look to take advantage of the Blue Devil’s recent poor performance and translate it into its first ACC victory.

The Cavaliers have struggled against Duke of late, as they have been unable to topple the Blue Devils in the past four seasons and have only one won set in the last 13 played between the two squads. 

Players to watch

Virginia senior libero Alex Spencer

Leading the team in digs by a wide margin, Spencer has played a huge role in Virginia’s defense this season. Currently leading the entire ACC in digs per set, Spencer has seen her digs per set statistic nearly double from last season. In order for Virginia to get back into the win column, they will need to continue to see defensive dominance from their senior libero.

Spencer’s ability to lead the backline of the defense for the Cavaliers will need to play an instrumental role if they are to upset the Blue Devils. Look for Spencer to lead the defensive effort against Duke and continue to rack up digs. 

Duke senior outside hitter Payton Schwantz 

Leading the Blue Devils in kills, ranking second on her squad in digs and being tied for third in service aces, Schwantz impacts the court in nearly every aspect of the game. The Texas native has been playing extremely well as of recent, finishing her last three games with both double digit kills and digs. 

Schwantz’s ability to affect every facet of the game will force Virginia to take her dynamic style of play into account. Spencer will likely have her fair share of chances countering Schwantz’s plays on the ball and will look to slow her down.

Keys to the Game

A defensive battle

Both Duke and Virginia have their strengths on the defensive side of the court, evidenced by the fact each team has a lower opponent hitting percentage compared to their own hitting percentage. The Blue Devils, in fact, lead the entire ACC in opponent hitting percentage, highlighting their elite defensive capabilities. This defensive effort is not spearheaded by one player, but rather is a team effort, as Duke has three players averaging over a block per set. As such, the Cavaliers must be able to hunker down on defense and grind out a close, defensive game that will be played in the trenches all evening.

Getting early set wins

Virginia must look to improve its performance in early sets. This season, the Cavaliers have only won their first set of a match in one of their past five matches. Before its last match against NC State, Virginia had lost four straight opening sets. The Cavaliers will look to turn over a new leaf and start strong against Duke in order to prevent themselves from having to play from behind early.

In particular, junior middle blocker Milla Ciprian has the potential to be the remedy for Virginia’s early set woes. Making her season debut this past weekend, Ciprian was dominant in her return, as she was able to record over a block per set, three kills per set and over three and a half points per set. As the Cavaliers now have Ciprian — their blocking leader from last season — back, look for their defensive performance to improve. 

First serve is scheduled for Friday at 6 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The match will be broadcasted live on ACC Network Extra.