By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“We were on the court and it was match point and Emily looked at me and said, `I could cry,’ ” Suber recalled the next afternoon.
They would have been tears of joy, not sadness. A libero from Santa Barbara, Calif., Rottman is the only senior on the Cavaliers’ roster. (Mallory Woolridge, who entered the University with Rottman in 2010, redshirted last season and will return in 2014.) And now, finally, Rottman can say she’s been part of a victory over the Hokies.
“I felt honored to help the one person we look up to the most on the team achieve something so special to her,” said Suber, a freshman from Atlee High in Hanover County.
Virginia Tech had won nine straight matches in the series before Wednesday night, when UVa prevailed 25-15, 30-28, 27-29 and 25-17 in Blacksburg. The victory was the first for the Wahoos over the Hokies since Sept. 18, 2009.
In the locker room afterward, Virginia coach Dennis Hohenshelt said Thursday, the smile on Rottman’s face “said a million words. It’s the thing she’s been waiting for. And to see that is very rewarding as a coach.
“I feel good that we can check that one off the list, that she’s won at Virginia Tech, and I’d like her to check off that she’s on a two-match winning streak against Virginia Tech by the time this thing’s done.”
The `Hoos will host the Hokies at Memorial Gym on Nov. 24. Virginia’s immediate concern, however, is ACC newcomer Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish, who lost at Virginia Tech on Friday night, visit Mem Gym on Sunday for a 1 p.m. match.
“I definitely think we’re all excited,” UVa freshman Haley Kole said. “We want to hold on to this feeling and keep pushing.”
This is the Cavaliers’ second year under Hohenshelt, whose predecessor, Lee Maes, compiled a 53-70 overall record in four seasons. Virginia, which finished 9-22 overall and 3-17 in ACC play last season, has already surpassed those victory totals this fall.
UVa is 11-10 and 4-5 heading into its match with Notre Dame (8-12, 2-7).
“In this stage of the rebuilding you’re going to have peaks and valleys,” Hohenshelt said. “The question now is, can we stay on this peak? We got out of the valley pretty fast, and that was the really nice thing.”
Hohenshelt was referring to Virginia’s ugly loss to NC State, which won 25-21, 25-17 and 25-14 last Saturday night at Mem Gym. “I was not happy,” he said.
Twenty-four hours earlier, the Cavaliers had fallen in three sets to No. 13 North Carolina, but not because of a lack of effort or focus.
Against the Wolfpack, Hohenshelt said, “I thought we were undisciplined. I thought we played as a bunch of individuals. I was really, really disappointed in how we played. The girls knew that very clearly. But they also understand that when I’m on them, it’s not because I’m mad, it’s because I want something better for them. They get that about me. I’m not doing it just to yell.”
Two days after the NC State match, the team met to review “that film, and we paused every single play, because there was something bad every single play,” Hohenshelt said. “And I can pause [the Virginia Tech match] and there’s something good on every single play.”
Especially gratifying was the play of the four freshmen in the Cavaliers’ rotation: Suber, Kole, Lexi Riccolo and Jasmine Burton. (The team’s other two first-years — Alex Thorson and Meghan McDowell — are redshirting.)
“They were unbelievable last night,” Hohenshelt said Thursday. “I thought they were pretty spectacular. I thought Lexi and Karlie passed the ball extremely well, and Jasmine and Haley were pretty unstoppable. And so it was nice that it sort of all came together.”
Against the Hokies, the 6-1 Kole had 23 kills, the 6-0 Burton had 20 and 5-9 junior Tori Janowski added 15.
“It’s the first time that all three of those kids went off on the same night,” Hohenshelt said. “And when that happens and they’re all good, the kids see a glimpse of what can happen.”
A year ago, Virginia went 1-11 in road matches. The Cavaliers are 3-4 on the road this fall.
With a rebuilding team, Hohenshelt said, “there’s going to be really bad losses for no reason. There’s going to be some good wins for no reason. But we’re also winning on the road now, which to me is as important as anything. We’re developing a little tough skin on the road. To me, that’s even a bigger step than maybe playing North Carolina tough at home. To be tough on the road is a sign of a team that’s starting to progress.”
For the Cavaliers’ rise to continue, their freshmen “have to play like they’re not first-years,” Hohenshelt said.
Kole is from Tallahassee, Fla., Suber from the Richmond area, Burton from West Hills, Calif., and Riccolo from Wheaton, Ill. (Thorson and McDowell, who Hohenshelt believes have great promise, are from Spring, Texas, and Clarendon Hills, Ill, respectively.)
“The funny part is each of those kids individually is so different,” Hohenshelt said. “Haley’s so hard on herself. I have to tell her to ease up on herself. Jasmine needs to be harder on herself. Jasmine’s sort of the carefree, everything’s rosy [type], and Karlie just needs to play and forget about things. She’s a kid that’s a pretty good athlete, and I just want her to play. Lexi’s the interesting kid. She’s a tough kid. I like her a lot. I like her personality.”
Suber, whose basketball coach at Atlee was former UVa hoops player Anna Prillaman, rooms with Kole. Suber has lived in this state since she was 9 months, so “I kind of had this natural rivalry with Virginia Tech already,” she said.
Her out-of-state classmates, however, had to develop an appreciation for the rivalry.
“I was obviously excited that we beat Tech,” Kole said, “but it didn’t really hit me till I saw Emily’s face, because she doesn’t usually show much emotion.”