CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It took every point plus one for Virginia (8-17, 4-11 ACC) to knock off rival Virginia Tech (14-13, 5-10 ACC) in a come-from-behind 22-25, 25-16, 23-25, 25-23, 16-14 thriller on Friday (Nov. 9) night in front of a capacity crowd at Memorial Gymnasium.
Virginia matched the school record for blocks in a five-set match in the rally-scoring era, racking up a monstrous 20 rejections. Sarah Billiard (Matthews, N.C.) racked up a career-high eight blocks while hammering home 15 kills to lead the Cavaliers. She did not commit an error, hitting .455 in the win.
“We’ve seen those opportunities previously this year,” said head coach Aaron Smith, “maybe not as many in the 5th set, but opportunities where it’s been 1-1 or up 2-1. Tonight, the girls really responded to some tough coaching and some expectations we set on them.
“We talked about it in the locker room afterwards,” Smith continued, “they really stepped up with their blocking and our defense there after the third set. It was okay up to that point, but we knew we had an opportunity to turn some points with our blocking and our defense. They really responded there in the 4th and 5th set, specifically.”
Chino Anukwuem (East Hanover, N.J.) led Virginia with a season-high nine blocks and Milla Ciprian (St. John’s, Fla.) chipped in eight rejections to help the Cavaliers turn away Virginia Tech.
The Hokies were led by Kaity Smith with 17 kills and Jaila Tolbert with 16.
SET 1: Virginia Tech 25, Virginia 22
Both teams hit over .350 in the opening set, but Virginia Tech found the late run. The Hokies broke a 19-19 deadlock with a 3-1 run. Ester Talamazzi knocked down a pair of kills late to seal the frame for the Hokies.
SET 2: Virginia 25, Virginia Tech 16
Virginia answered with defense in the second set. The Cavaliers racked up six blocks in the set, led by three from Ciprian, to hold the Hokies to -.031 hitting. Anukwuem knocked down four kills to lead Virginia in the frame.
A 5-1 run broke an 8-8 tie and Virginia never looked back, cruising to the 25-16 win.
SET 3: Virginia Tech 25, Virginia 23
Virginia Tech held Virginia to just .114 hitting in the third, while the Hokies hit .290 themselves to retake the lead. Once again, the Hokies edged ahead after an 18-18 tie and got back-to-back blocks to earn the 2-1 lead.
SET 4: Virginia 25, Virginia Tech 23
In a must-have fourth set, Virginia made its mark at the net with a remarkable seven blocks. Billiard and Jelena Novakovic (Belgrade, Serbia) each had solo blocks to spark the Cavaliers. Alex Spencer (North Canton, Ohio) racked up eight digs in the frame to bolster the Virginia defense.
Billiard paced the Cavaliers with four kills while Novakovic and Grace Turner (Cincinnati, Ohio) added three apiece.
SET 5: Virginia 16, Virginia Tech 14
The decisive set looked bleak in the early points as the Hokies opened a 9-5 lead. After a timeout, the Cavaliers roared back with a 5-0 run on the serve of freshman Kristen Leland (Dallas, Texas) to take a 10-9 advantage. With the set tied 14-14, the Cavaliers got kills from Billiard and Turner to send the 1,089 fans in Memorial Gym into raucous celebration.
•  The 20 blocks are the most by Virginia in a five-set match since 2004.
• Spencer led the match with 22 digs.
• Libero Kelsey Miller (Crestwood, Ky.) added 20 digs.
• Novakovic and Anukwuem chipped in 13 and 10 kills, respectively, to give Virginia four in double figures.

Tonight’s match was sponsored by Virginia529, the official college savings plan of University of Virginia Athletics.  With Virginia’s victory, the Hoos have earned one-half point in the Commonwealth Clash.  The score for the Clash is now Virginia 2 and Virginia Tech 3.  Learn more about Virginia529 and this competition at”

Virginia faces a short turnaround as it faces Clemson on Saturday (Nov. 10) at 7 p.m. in Memorial Gymnasium.