Virginia volleyball (11-17, 4-14 ACC) traveled to Blacksburg to face off against in-state rival Virginia Tech (13-15, 3-17 ACC) Saturday. The Cavaliers concluded the 2023 season with a 3-0 win over the Hokies in Cassell Coliseum, after defeating them 3-2 at John Paul Jones Arena earlier the season, marking a successful sweep of the Commonwealth Clash despite an otherwise turbulent season.
The first set saw neither team able to gain a significant advantage, though Virginia led slightly the whole set. The Cavaliers surged ahead at the end of the set, scoring six of the final seven points to claim the first set 25-18. The difference was found in errors as Virginia committed just one against the Hokies’ eight. Graduate student setter Regan Trueblood was instrumental in gaining the advantage with skillful and timely serves that put pressure on Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers and the Hokies stayed neck and neck for the first half of the second set before Virginia went on a 7-2 run to bring the score to 22-16. Virginia Tech responded in kind, going on a 7-2 run of their own to push the set to extra points. In a pivotal moment, junior middle blocker Abby Tadder sealed the set with back-to-back kills, providing a strong offensive end to a nail-biter 26-24 set. Tadder totalled six kills in the set.
While Virginia had all the momentum, winning five straight sets against the Hokies dating back to the previous matchup between the teams, Virginia Tech roared ahead in the third set to gain a 13-4 lead — their largest of the match. Undeterred, the Cavaliers slowly chipped away at the lead, before going on a crucial 11-2 run to assume the lead over the Hokies at 23-22. Senior pin hitter Chloe Wilson capped off the run with a stellar block. Virginia Tech rallied, advancing the score to take the lead by one, 25-24. However, a well-placed block from graduate middle blocker Veresia Yon and freshman pin hitter Lauryn Bowie, as well as two kills from graduate outside hitter Ciera Hecht, secured Virginia the third set 27-25 and the match victory.
The Cavaliers, in winning this game, extended a four-match winning streak over Virginia Tech, securing a 41-40 lead in all-time matches. This game saw players with excellent records prove themselves one last time this season, including Tadder, who led all players with 15 kills and a 0.650 hitting percentage and junior libero Milan Gomillion, who had a match-high 18 digs.
Coach Shannon Wells was excited to see her experienced players secure a rivalry win to end the season on a high note, praising seniors Hecht and Trueblood for their performances postgame.
“I am just so proud,” Coach Shannon Wells said. “I’m really excited for our seniors. I’ve always said that I thought this squad would be playing their best volleyball at the end of the year. To see this team come together the way they did at the end and fight, I think it really shows who this team really is and led by our seniors.”
It will fall upon Wells to recruit and hit the transfer portal to plug gaps and replace departing talent in order for the Cavaliers to build upon their momentum in 2024.
Despite disappointing losses, the season saw the program take strides with two signature victories over Virginia Tech. Though Virginia had higher hopes for its season than just four conference wins, the team demonstrated remarkable growth and resilience in the victories over the Hokies. While the season’s first Commonwealth Clash matchup was a come-from-behind, five-set reverse sweep, this time the Cavaliers never wavered whether leading or trailing to put Virginia Tech away in just three.
Though the overall results make it a difficult season to call a success, if Virginia can bring the same level of competition as it did against the Hokies to its opponents next season, the program will continue to trend positively.