Virginia volleyball won the latest edition of the Smithfield Commonwealth Clash with a thrilling comeback 3-2 victory over rival Virginia Tech Saturday. The Cavaliers (9-13, 2-10 ACC) were able to recover after a sluggish start to defeat the Hokies (12-11, 2-10 ACC), who struggled with unforced errors throughout play.
The match was held in John Paul Jones Arena for the first time since the building was built, and the increased capacity over Memorial Gym allowed a record to be broken for the program. In the third set, the team announced that the game garnered a capacity of 3,162, the most in program history.
Despite the home support, the Cavaliers came out slowly in the first set. After a competitive first 10 points, Virginia Tech was able to gain the first two-point advantage of the game, and it never relinquished the lead. Virginia was able to control the front line when it had blockers in position, but the lack of consistency up front led to difficult plays being made nearly every point by the back row.
The Hokies were not perfect, either — the team had four service errors in the set — but they played well enough to stave off any Virginia comeback. The Cavaliers came close, finding themselves down just three points at 22-19, but Virginia Tech ended up taking the game 25-20.
A similar story unfolded in the second set, as the Hokies jumped out to a 7-3 lead, causing Coach Shannon Wells to need to take a timeout. The time served to calm some nerves, as the Cavaliers fought all the way back to a 12-12 tie with a blocked shot from the duo of graduate student middle blocker Veresia Yon and graduate outside hitter Ciera Hecht.
However, a new problem popped up for the Cavaliers — the team simply could not find the Hokie side of the court, hitting just .067 for the set. The score stayed tight for the next few points, but a 5-0 run by Virginia Tech broke the game open and Virginia could not recover from the repeated errors. A stunned crowd watched the road team take a 2-0 set lead with an identical 25-20 scoreline in the second game.
Virginia would not quit so easily, finding new life in the third set due to the fantastic play of junior middle blocker Abby Tadder. Tadder would be the team’s most productive player, finishing with a .441 hitting percentage and 18 kills. She and Yon controlled the net all afternoon, and an ace by the latter caused a timeout from Virginia Tech as the Hokies faced a 10-6 deficit.
Unlike Virginia, however, Virginia Tech would not use the timeout as a recovery tool, as the Cavaliers grew the lead to as many as 11 before settling for a dominant 25-15 third set victory. Still in a win-or-go-home mentality, Virginia went on to the fourth set with some momentum and the crowd behind it.
The fourth game began nearly identical to the third — the first couple points were dead even, but the Cavaliers found a run in themselves to cause a Hokie timeout, this time at 9-4. This time, senior outside hitter Chloe Wilson was the star, responsible for three points. In another similar manner, the timeout did not help Virginia Tech, as Virginia immediately grew the lead to 13-5. The Hokies would cut the lead to five at one point, but much like the third set, the outcome was known for essentially the entire time, and Virginia evened up the score with a 25-15 victory.
Both teams tired noticeably during the fourth period, but a winner-take-all final game energized both teams as well as the crowd, who was as raucous as it had been all night. In accordance with the whole game, the fifth set started off tight, but then the crucial point in the entire game took place. Two consecutive media replays went the Cavaliers’ way, giving them an 8-7 lead as the final media timeout took place.
Virginia took this momentum and went for the kill, both literally and figuratively. The Cavaliers exploded for a 5-1 run to take a 14-9 lead, and the Hokies could not recover. Virginia won the final set 15-11 and took yet another victory in the Commonwealth Clash. Wells expressed her excitement for the victory in her post-game press conference.
“It was a really tough match between two gritty teams,” Wells said. “This was a big stepping stone for us.”
Beyond the obvious desire to beat Virginia Tech at any point in the season, this victory in particular was of utmost importance for the Cavaliers. The win was their first since defeating Syracuse Sept. 29, and in a season that still has a good chunk left, having any sort of momentum could steal a couple more games down the line as other teams tire. In addition, the excellent performances of Yon and Tadder could not be wasted, and the duo may prove to serve as a kickstart for the rest of the team to take their play up a notch as well.
The Cavaliers will look to create a winning streak as they now travel to Coral Gables, Fla. to take on Miami. First point is set to take place at 7:00 p.m., and the game will be televised on ACC Network Extra.