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Virginia volleyball preview: The start of a new chapter

With the arrival of Coach Shannon Wells and an all-new coaching staff, we take a look at what to expect from the 2021 edition of Virginia volleyball

<p>The new-look Cavaliers kick-off their 2021 campaign against rival Maryland Friday.&nbsp;</p>

The new-look Cavaliers kick-off their 2021 campaign against rival Maryland Friday. 

While the 2020-2021 season was tumultuous for every Virginia sports team, the volleyball squad had perhaps the hardest time of all. Any preview of the Cavaliers would be remiss not to mention the placement of the entire staff on administrative leave on March 17, with their eventual removal coming soon after. Now, Coach Shannon Wells, former Florida associate head coach, looks to bring her own culture into the vacuum left by the previous staff

2020 season recap

En route to a 2-12 (0-12 ACC) record, the Cavaliers played both in the fall and spring before canceling their remaining five games after the staff’s dismissal. At the start of both the fall and spring portions of the season, Virginia posted wins against The Citadel and Old Dominion, respectively, but things fell apart during conference play. While Virginia did not win a single game in conference, they had a very unbalanced schedule, competing in just three conference home games.

Who returns

While Virginia had a rough season last year, the Cavaliers do bring back some talented players for fans to be excited about. Junior Mattison Matthews returns to her place as the reliable middle blocker, where she led the team in blocks last season. Stalwarts Sarah Billiard and Alexandra Spencer have moved on, but there to take their places are juniors Jayna Francis and Grace Turner, who hope to match Billiard’s blocking and Spencer’s defense. Additionally, talented senior middle blocker Alana White transferred in from Northwestern, where she led the team in blocks in both 2018 and 2019. Overall, the Cavaliers do have a few exciting players, but a lot of unproven depth does create some cause for concern.

Schedule outlook

The ACC is typically not known for being a volleyball powerhouse, and that seems to be accurate once again this season. Only four teams are ranked in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25, with just one in the top 10. In addition, Virginia has a very manageable non-conference slate, with just one ranked team coming before conference play. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, though, they will play three of the four ranked ACC teams on the road, which they struggled with in the 2020-2021 season. The matches to watch early for Virginia may just be on the opening weekend, where they play a tournament round robin against Maryland, Hofstra and Central Connecticut State in College Park, Md. If Virginia can manage to win all three games — which is no easy feat — things may be looking up for the team moving forward. 

Predictions

If there was ever a season to declare a Year Zero, this would be the one. Wells is working from the bottom up, and while there are talented players on the roster, it is hard to form a cohesive bond in the first season of entirely new coaches. Virginia was picked last in the ACC in the preseason coaches poll, so simply getting out of the cellar would be a massive achievement for the Cavaliers. Ideally, Virginia would win a fair amount of their non-conference games and pick off a few ACC teams, making a 6-20 (2-16 ACC) record a reasonable one to predict.

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