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Virginia volleyball opens 2023 season with a home split in the Cavalier Classic

The Cavaliers swept Rider but later lost to Rutgers in a five set thriller

<p>The Cavaliers won their fifth consecutive season opener with a sweep of the Broncs.</p>

The Cavaliers won their fifth consecutive season opener with a sweep of the Broncs.

Virginia volleyball hosted the Cavalier Classic — their first non-conference event of the season — Friday and Saturday at Memorial Gymnasium. The Cavaliers (1-1, 0-0 ACC) defeated Rider in straight sets but lost to Rutgers 3-2, splitting their matches to finish their home tournament in second.

Virginia’s season opener against the Broncs (0-2, 0-0 MAAC) was just the start the Cavaliers were looking for. The squad swept Rider in three sets, a clean sweep. The visiting team did not have the offensive power to match Virginia, finishing with a hitting percentage of .040 in comparison to the Cavaliers’ .322. Defensively, Virginia outnumbered the Broncs in both digs and blocks, locking up that side of the ball as well. 

While the first set ended with the Cavaliers on top, there were many unforced errors made by Virginia. Six of Rider’s 12 points in the set were a combination of service and attack errors made by the Cavaliers. 

In her Virginia debut, graduate student Ciera Hecht led the squad with five kills in the first set. Junior defensive specialist Heyli Velasquez served six straight to help the Cavaliers deepen their lead in the middle of the set and a block by freshman Lauryn Bowie ended the set for Virginia 25-12.

The second set was more competitive than the first, featuring seven ties throughout. Junior middle blocker Abby Tadder had four kills in five points towards the end of the set, helping the Cavaliers secure the set 25-20.

Senior Chloe Wilson dominated on offense in the third set with seven kills on only eight attempts. Hecht contributed four more kills including one to end the third set 25-17 and clinch the home opener for Virginia.

Multiple Virginia players posted phenomenal statlines in the opener. Junior setter Ashley Le had a double-double with 26 assists and 14 digs, graduate student Veresia Yon led both teams with six blocks and Tadder tied the second place all-time in program history hitting percentage in a single match with a .909.

After defeating Rider, Virginia moved on to the Cavalier Classic finale against the Scarlet Knights (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) Saturday. The game was a nail-biter, with the teams trading sets until Rutgers finally took the fifth set.

After leading 16-9 in the first, Virginia gave Rutgers eight of nine points in a row and almost completely erased their lead. A couple quick kills by Wilson and Tadder put the Cavaliers back on top with a final kill by Tadder closing the set 26-24. 

The Scarlet Knights took the second set, aided by 14 kills from five different players and six Virginia errors. Tadder was stellar from the front row — adding five kills on only seven attempts — but Rutgers clinched the second 25-22.

The Cavaliers gained an early lead on the Scarlet Knights in the third series and never let go, winning the set 25-17 Bowie contributed three kills, an ace and a block assist alongside Yon. Virginia’s offense mimicked Rutgers’ in the second set with six different players adding kills to the statline. An ace from senior defensive specialist Madison Morey closed it out to give Virginia a 2-1 lead.

Points bounced between the Scarlet Knights and Cavaliers in the fourth set, culminating in a 13-13 tie, after which Rutgers senior Kristina Grkovic tallied two block assists and a kill. Virginia tried to battle back but the momentum was with the Scarlet Knights who won the set 25-20 even after two late kills by Tadder. 

The fifth and subsequent tiebreaking set was a constant battle for the Cavaliers. Errors determined 14 of the 30 total points played with Virginia contributing half of them. After clawing to a 14-14 tie the Cavaliers had two errors to give Rutgers the set and match. 

Even though Virginia failed to take home the Cavalier Classic title, the Cavaliers had two players selected to the all-tournament team – Le and Tadder. Le posted another double-double with 46 assists and 24 digs while Tadder had a match-high 17 kills. Junior defensive specialist Milan Gomillion also had a noteworthy 21 digs. 

Next up for Virginia is a pair of games against Quinnipiac and Columbia in the Big Apple Tournament hosted by the Lions in New York. The tournament begins Friday and will be streamed on ESPN Plus.


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