By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia volleyball team, which went 3-0 last weekend to capture the Cavalier Classic, won’t play at Memorial Gym again until Oct. 11.
“That seems like a long way away, doesn’t it?” second-year coach Dennis Hohenshelt said Monday.
By the time Cavaliers play their ACC home opener that night, against Syracuse, they will have faced four other conference foes on the road: Duke (Friday), Wake Forest (Saturday), Maryland (Oct. 4) and Pittsburgh (Oct. 5).
The schedule might be less than ideal for a team with only one senior, but Hohenshelt isn’t complaining. The Wahoos, who finished 9-22 in his first season, are 7-5 heading into their ACC opener.
“If you would have said to me in June, `If you’re 7-5, would you take it?’ ” Hohenshelt said, “I probably would have said, `For sure. I’ll take it in a heartbeat.’ ”
The Cavaliers’ record easily could be better. Only once, in a 3-1 loss to No. 19 Colorado State at the Pepperdine Invitational in California, has Hohenshelt “felt like we were physically outmatched and weren’t ready to really win,” he said.
“All the other [losses] I thought we had chances. And what I tell the girls is, it’s part of the process. We’re going to win one of these, and then you’re going to be like, `Yeah, that’s how we win these.’ And it’s going to roll.
“But we have to learn. Last year we were never in a position to win them. This year we’re in a position to win them. We’ll figure it out. We’re miles from where we were last year. Miles and miles.”
Before coming home to host the Cavalier Classic, UVa played in the Western Kentucky Invitational in Bowling Green, Ky. Virginia’s third match was against No. 22 Ohio. The `Hoos won the first two games, but the Bobcats came back to take the next three.
“We were really good the first two games, and to Ohio’s credit they stayed and kept fighting, because they’re a top-25 team, and we just ran out of gas,” Hohenshelt said.
His players’ effort in UVa’s second match at the Western Kentucky tournament, a 3-1 loss to UNLV, disappointed Hohenshelt, but the defeat to Ohio did not upset him.
“What I wanted them to recognize was how well they played the first two games and that that’s in them,” Hohenshelt said. “I said to someone, `We’re [almost] there. Who’s going to push the cart over the edge to get us there?’ So that’s what we have to figure out, and that’s part of the staff’s job.”
Injuries and illness affected the Cavaliers’ performance at Mem Gym last weekend, but they found a way to grind out 3-1 victories over Seton Hall, Columbia and William & Mary.
“What we learned to do is win when we’re not good,” Hohenshelt said. “The key right now is, we gotta get healthy. It’s the hard part, like any coach will tell you: How do you get healthy and still practice to get better at things?
“The good part about it is, if the list was 50 things last year at this time, it might be 10 things now.”
The team’s captains are libero Emily Rottman and middle hitter Mallory Woolridge, a redshirt junior who missed last season while recovering from shoulder surgery. Rottman is the Cavaliers’ lone senior.
“Emily and Mallory have been fantastic,” Hohenshelt said. “Not just how they’ve been handling the group, but how they’ve been playing. They’ve been very, very, very solid. It’s what I expect from them every day. They don’t get to take days off, and I’ve been very upfront with them when they’re not at that level.”
“They’re an interesting group,” Hohenshelt said of his first-years. “They keep me on my toes. But Haley Kole is a legit outside hitter in this conference.
“Jasmine Burton’s going to be fabulous. I’m on her all the time, because I think she can be a lot better. I can’t [do it for] her. She has to want to be better. And so that’s part of the learning process for her right now, so I’m hard on her. She’s going to have to deal with that.”
Rottman, who’s from Santa Barbara, Calif., entered her senior season never having played on a UVa team that finished with a winning record.
“It’s the most frustrating thing in sports, I would say, when you’re coming in the gym, working as hard as you can, and not seeing the results,” Rottman said last month at Mem Gym.
This season, at least, there are clear signs of progress in a program that hasn’t advanced to the NCAA tournament since 1999.
`I said to a friend of mine who was at Western Kentucky, `What do you think?’ ” Hohenshelt recalled. “He said, `This is a rebuilding job. If you would have told me last year you’d be at this point [now], I’d say you’re right on track with where you need to be.’ ”
Hohenshelt believes the `Hoos “might be four steps ahead of where we thought we might be, if that makes sense. And that’s simply because I think the personnel’s even better than we thought.
“The best part is the kids feel confident in their abilities. They’re not leaving here Thursday going, `Oh, my gosh, we have to go to Duke and Wake Forest.’ They’re saying, `Let’s go to Duke and Wake Forest.’ And so that’s a refreshing thing to be part of.
“Not that they were going in with a defeatist attitude last year, but they understood the reality of it, you know. They were going to play hard, and if we played hard maybe we had some shots. But I think this group thinks, `Why not?’ And so when you have a group like that, anything’s possible.”
And now comes a critical stretch for the Cavaliers, who finished 3-17 in ACC play last fall.
“It’ll be interesting to see how this group does on the road at hostile sites,” Hohenshelt said. “As I said to the freshmen, people are going to be there making fun of you, the student sections will be there. It’s not going to be all roses.
“In these next two weeks, we need to be tougher and we need to get some wins on the road. Whether we’re 2-2 or 1-3 or 4-0, we gotta have some resilience. We’ve already proved that we’re pretty good at home. We have to prove we can go win on the road.”