After a tough start in non-conference play, Virginia Tech volleyball has bounced back in a big way. The Hokies began the year with two early season tournaments and a road match against VCU, coming out with just a 3-4 record to show for it. However, the team found its footing in the Amy Svoboda Memorial Classic last weekend, grabbing three consecutive wins to improve to 6-4.
“[Last weekend] was great. We really improved a lot offensively, which is something that we’ve been working on a lot over the last couple of years,” head coach Jill Wilson said. “I thought we took a really nice step of having a really nice balanced offense where we’re not just focused on one hitter.”
Last season, despite a solid start to the year in non-conference play, the Hokies went just 5-13 in the ACC. A large reason for this was being one-dimensional on the attack, using senior right-side hitter Jaila Tolbert almost exclusively. Tolbert finished her career in Blacksburg with over 1,000 kills, but without other options behind her, the Hokies struggled.
“Offensively, we didn’t have enough depth,” Wilson said. “It’s like in football, when you have one receiver that gets the ball, and everybody knows they’re going to get the ball. That’s how we were last year with Jaila Tolbert.”
Now, Tech has added pieces to the attack that have already made an impact on the team. Freshman outside hitter Cera Powell has jumped right into the action and is already second on the team in kills with 99. Alongside her, Blacksburg native Anabel Zeir has made an impact on the attack and on defense early in her career. The freshman has 57 kills, but also is fourth in the ACC with 42 blocks. The youth movement is making the Hokies more versatile as non-conference play draws to a close.
“They’ve done a great job. Our freshmen have this nice balance of work ethic, but truly just enjoying the game and being very passionate,” Wilson said. “I think it’s pretty contagious, and I’ve been impressed with their composure so far.”
Before entering ACC play, the Hokies have one final tournament, the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg. After playing their first ten games of the year away from home, Virginia Tech finally get to play in front of the Cassell Coliseum crowd. The tough road stretch wasn’t easy for the Hokies, but it prepares them for other road tests later in the season.
“We have to learn how to play on the road, and I’m really glad that we finished our last non-conference tournament on a high note,” Wilson said. “It’s always important to maintain your composure when you’re playing on someone else’s floor. I was really happy that we continually got better as the last few weeks went.
Unfortunately for Tech, the next long road trip comes up quickly. After this weekend, the Hokies won’t return to Cassell Coliseum until October 11. ACC play will begin with almost three weeks on the road, making the team appreciate this weekend in Blacksburg that much more.
“We scheduled this weekend at home because we knew we might get to sit on the road over the first couple of weeks of conference play,” Wilson said. “That’s part of it. You have to be resilient, tough and organized when you’re missing class, and so far I’ve been really impressed with our young kids and how on top of stuff they’ve been.
The competition this weekend gives the Hokies a chance to further improve their record entering conference play next week. Chattanooga, Charlotte, and Arkansas State travel to Blacksburg this weekend to participate in a round robin style tournament. Getting a few more wins at home is crucial for Tech to gain momentum ahead of the conference opener against UVA next Friday.
“We need to continually get better. The goal is that we won’t recognize ourselves week-to-week because we take such big steps,” Wilson said. “When you have a young team out there, you can do that. When you have a more veteran team, you might change a little bit, but not as much as we can.”