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Volleyball hits stride, sweeping Bellarmine, Georgetown, Fairleigh Dickinson before falling to NC State and downing North Carolina

The Cavaliers won 12 sets in five matches

<p>Walker, a graduate transfer from Northwestern, has been a central force in the Cavaliers' success this season.</p>

Walker, a graduate transfer from Northwestern, has been a central force in the Cavaliers' success this season.

Virginia volleyball won all three matches between Sept. 17-18 in straight sets, turning Memorial Gym into a raucous fortress along the way. The following weekend, the Cavaliers (8-4, 1-1 ACC) travelled south to kick off ACC play against NC State and North Carolina. In the first matchup, Virginia lost a four set matchup against the Wolfpack (7-5, 1-0 ACC) Friday night. On Sunday, the Cavaliers took down rival Tar Heels (11-2, 0-2 ACC) in a four set match — their first ACC win under Coach Shannon Wells.

Win against Bellarmine

Virginia opened its Friday doubleheader with a hard-fought afternoon victory against the Bellarmine Knights (5-7, 0-0 ASUN). 

In the first set, both sides struggled to pull away and neither mounted a lead of larger than three points. Down 22-20, Virginia won four of five to gain set point. However, a bad serve tied the game, necessitating extra points. The Cavaliers won the first and then saw a missed shot by Bellarmine hand them the first set 26-24. This would prove to be the closest Virginia came to dropping a set all weekend. 

In the second set it was all Virginia as the Knights struggled to get the ball over Virginia’s imposing front line — seven of the Cavaliers’ 13 blocks came in the middle set. The final two of those blocks were supplied by graduate middle blocker Alana Walker at the back end of a 4-0 run to clinch the set 25-11.

Virginia began the third set with five consecutive points, but let its foot off the gas as Bellarmine ate away at its lead until both teams sat even at 12. The Knights led 23-20 late, but a strong Virginia run pushed the score to 24-24. Like the first set, though, the Cavaliers won the two tie-break points and put away the set and the match 26-24.

Win against Georgetown

To cap off its eventful Friday, Virginia played another close affair with Georgetown (4-7, 0-0 Big East).

The Cavaliers came out of the gates on fire, winning 14 of the first 16 points of the first set behind 10 combined kills from Walker, freshman outside hitter Brooklyn Borum and sophomore hitter Mary Shaffer. The Hoyas managed to get their feet under them enough to outscore Virginia close for the rest of the set, but still fell 25-11.

In the second set, the Cavaliers again opened up a big lead and were up 13-7 about halfway through the set. Georgetown found enough fight to claw back into the game for a few points, but fell back out right as quickly and dropped the set 25-19 thanks to four big kills by senior outside hitter Grace Turner.

The Hoyas finally got their act together in the third set, playing the Cavaliers close before eventually taking a 22-19 lead. Virginia, however, stormed back and tied the game at 22-22, bringing all of the nearly 800 people populating Memorial Gym to their feet. The crowd held their breath as Georgetown held set point, but Shaffer’s team-leading 10th kill knotted the game once more. For the third time that day, Virginia won both points in the tiebreaker. Virginia’s fearsome front three rose up and forced a Georgetown swing long, giving the Cavaliers the set 26-24 and the match 3-0.

Win against Fairleigh Dickinson

Virginia closed out the weekend with a Saturday afternoon fixture against Fairleigh Dickinson (record). 

The Cavaliers spent almost the whole game running a 6-2 rotation, which proved simple but effective. Through the first half of the first set, both teams traded blows but were unable to string together runs of more than two or three points. Eventually, Virginia broke out behind the scorching serves of senior libero Kristen Leland, winning seven points in a row to create an 18-10 lead. A brilliant kill by Shaffer put away the first set 25-15 for Virginia.

The Cavaliers started slowly again in the second set, going down 3-5 after a couple of missed blocks and miscommunications. However, a pair of beautiful points ending in spikes by Borum, who had a team-high 14 kills, jolted Virginia awake and saw them pull away again. In the middle of a heavily slanted Cavalier run, Turner made the play of the game, spiking straight down onto the Knight’s freshman setter Hannah Schmidt. The crowd reacted much the same way it would have to a Jay Huff slam dunk, rising and roaring in approval. Fairleigh Dickinson pulled back even with a 6-0 run of its own, but two more emphatic kills by Alana Walker put the Cavaliers ahead for good in a 25-20 second set victory.

In the final set, the Knights again came out of the gate quickly and again faded as the set progressed. Late in the set, Walker killed another attempted comeback with another thunderous kill, causing Fairleigh Dickinson’s interim coach Karl France to call for time. In the huddle, the Cavaliers laughed, joked, smiled and played a few games. Borum put away the final point with a clean kill to win the set 25-17, and the Cavaliers escaped the weekend with high morale and without dropping a set. Shaffer was named tournament MVP, averaging 3.89 kills and one block per set.

Loss against NC State

The following weekend, Virginia lost a close first set 27-25, then bounced right back and won the second set convincingly 25-14. However, the Wolfpack weathered the Cavaliers’ energy and as a result, they lost the third and fourth set 21-25 and 20-25, respectively.

Walker and Borum were powerhouses for the Cavaliers, who put up a combined 26.5 points.

The Cavaliers posted a season-high 16 blocks, and have now outblocked their opponents in nine of their 13 games so far this season. Walker led the way with nine blocks herself.

Meanwhile, a quartet of Virginia players recorded double-digit digs. Leland had 13, Turner had 12 and junior setter Maddie Bolyston and Borum both had 11. 

The Cavaliers had 66 total digs in what was a very hard-fought defensive effort.

Win against North Carolina

After winning the first set 25-17, Virginia lost the second set 15-25. At one set apiece, the third set proved to be decisive. The Tar Heels led 22-20, but the Cavaliers won the set 26-24 after pivotal kills by Borum.

Walker notched her second double-double of the season with 10 kills and 11 blocks.

While the Cavaliers recorded season-high blocks against the Wolfpack, they didn’t stop there. Virginia posted a new season-high of 16.5 blocks to get the upper hand on North Carolina and its seven blocks — ultimately handing the Tar Heels their second loss of the season.

Thus far, Virginia has won the first set six times out of 12 total matches —in those six games, the Cavaliers are a perfect 6-0. These first sets are proving critical for Virginia, but even with four losses on the season, its perseverance has shown this season as many sets have remained close.

The Cavaliers will face one of the top teams in the nation, No. 4 Pittsburgh, on the road Wednesday at 8 p.m. The game will be streamed live on ACCNX.