DEKALB, Ill. – Career highs from Sarah Billiard (Matthews, N.C.) and freshman Grace Turner (Cincinnati, Ohio) carried Virginia (1-4) to a split on the first day of play at the Holiday Inn Express Invitational, hosted by Northern Illinois.
Billiard floored 21 kills and Turner 16 to lead the Cavaliers over Northern Kentucky (2-2) in a five-set thriller, 25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 16-25, 15-13. Virginia fell to Nevada (3-1) in five sets to open the day.
MATCH ONE: Nevada 3, Virginia 2 (25-20, 23-25, 25-8, 20-25, 15-8)
Billiard floored 14 kills to once again lead Virginia, but Nevada outlasted the Cavaliers in five sets, 25-20, 23-25, 25-8, 20-25, 15-8). Jamilia Minor went for 20 kills while Kayla Afoa added another 16 to drive the Wolfpack.
Jelena Novakovic (Belgrade, Serbia) hit a team-leading .368 with eight kills while Chino Anukwuem (East Hanover, N.J.) and Turner each produced nine kills for the Cavaliers.
A slow start put Virginia in a 10-4 hole and proved too much for the Cavaliers to overcome in the opening set. A pair of early aces helped Nevada build the advantage, but Virginia rallied back to even the set at 12-12.
The difference maker proved to be a 4-0 Wolfpack run to extend an 18-14 lead. Nevada hit .294 in the set to take the 1-0 lead.
After another sluggish found the Cavaliers in a 15-8 hole, Virginia slowly clawed its way back behind six kills from Billiard. Libero Kelsey Miller (Crestwood, Ky.) served the Cavaliers to a 5-0 run to pull within 16-13.
A 4-0 run, capped by a pair of kills from Billiard, gave Virginia a 17-16 lead but Nevada responded to claim a 23-22 advantage. Turner provided the finish the Cavaliers needed, getting a pair of kills in a 3-0 run to level the match with a 25-23 win.
Five aces and a .600 hitting percentage led Nevada to a 25-8 decision in the third set. Back-to-back aces to open the set provided the tone for Nevada’s runaway frame.
Flipping the script from the previous set, Virginia ran out to an early lead behind the service of Wilson. From 7-2, the Cavaliers controlled the set thanks to five kills from Anukwuem.
A late 5-0 run for Nevada closed the gap, but Virginia easily held off the Pack, 25-20, to force a decisive fifth set.
Nevada hit .474 and scored seven of the final eight points to turn an 8-7 score into a 15-8 victory. Minor produced four of the Pack’s 10 kills in the final frame to seal the decision.
MATCH TWO: Virginia 3, Northern Kentucky 2 (25-19, 23-25, 25-23, 16-25, 15-13)
Virginia rallied back from a 7-3 deficit in the fifth set to claim its first victory of the season behind a slew of career performances. Billiard and Turner powered the Cavalier attack with their career highs while Miller anchored the back row with 26 digs to match her career best.
Billiard, Turner and Kat Young (Chantilly, Va.) all produced four kills in the opening set as Virginia hit a blistering .433 to roll, 25-19. With the score tied at 9-9, Billiard notched a kill to ignite a 3-0 Cavalier run.
Turner’s third kill of the frame made it 20-13 in favor of Virginia. The Cavaliers also got a trio of aces at the service line in the win.
Northern Kentucky built a 20-13 advantage in the set as Virginia was unable to replicate its attacking prowess from the opening frame. The Cavaliers rallied all the way back from the seven-point deficit to even it up at 23-23, but NKU found the two kills it needed for a 25-23 victory.
Neither side led by more than three points as the Cavaliers and Norse traded the lead four times and were tied on another twelve occasions. The largest lead of the set belonged to the Norse at 8-5, but the Cavaliers quickly pulled level on a Miller ace at 9-9.
The set would teeter back-and-forth to a 23-23 deadlock before the Cavaliers recorded back-to-back points capped by Turner’s pivotal kill to take a 2-1 lead.
The Norse locked down defensively to force nine Virginia errors and cruise to a 25-16 set, sending the Cavaliers to five sets for the second time on the day. Kelsey Libs drove the Norse with seven of her match-high 23 kills in the frame.
In its third, fifth set in the first five matches of the season, Virginia found itself in a 7-3 hole after Northern Kentucky rolled off a 5-1 run. The Cavaliers regrouped following a timeout, stringing together four consecutive points to tie the set highlighted by a block and kill from Novakovic.  
The two sides traded points until a block from Anukwuem and Jennifer Wineholt (San Diego, Calif.) gave Virginia a 12-10 lead. Leading 14-13, Virginia called timeout and turned to sophomore transfer Christine Jarman (Boynton Beach, Fla.) for the final kill of the match.
• Young hit a career-best .625 (11-1-16) in the win over NKU.
• The five-set victory was Virginia’s first since Nov. 13, 2016, snapping an eight-match losing streak in five-set affairs.
• Megan Wilson (Brookeville, Md.) produced her second double-double of the season with 48 assists and 10 digs in the win against NKU.
• Miller recorded a pair of kills in the NKU match, becoming the first UVA libero with multiple kills since 2012.
Virginia returns to action on Saturday (Sept. 1) with a 2 p.m. tilt against Northern Illinois.