After convincing victories over American and Seton Hall in consecutive three-game sweeps, it appeared the volleyball team was headed for a third straight victory to close out the Hokie Invitational.
However, the Hokies were unable to maintain the momentum of a convincing 25-20 opening game victory, losing on Sunday to Tennessee 25-20, 21-25, 16-25 and 17-25.
Senior outside hitter Justine Record led the Hokies with 11 kills, while Jennifer Wiker added nine of her own. Junior outside hitter and defensive specialist Morgan O’Neill and Record tied for the team lead in digs, each with 11.
“We did not feel nervous,” Record said. “We just started to do too much and got out of our comfort zone, which caused us to make more errors than usual.”
The first game was filled with an aggressive and efficient attack, as the Hokies made 11 kills and eight digs.
“We were just playing very low-error just like we try to emphasize in practice,” Wiker said. “Head coach Chris Riley told us we only made two errors in that first game, so that was huge.”
Initially, the Hokies were able to control the second game, jumping out to a quick 5-1 lead, but the Volunteers reacted quickly to eventually tie the game up at 9-9. What ensued was a seesaw battle of continuous ties and lead changes until the Vols were able to pull away in the game’s closest match.
“After that first game, they caught on to what we were doing,” Riley said. “They’re bigger than we are, a little more physical, and we couldn’t stop them.”
The turning point in the third game came with two consecutive controversial calls which were in Tennessee’s favor. Hokie fans and players alike were vehemently protesting an illegal touch call, followed by a serve called out, which many believed should have been an ace. As a result, Tennessee went from a 16-12 lead to an unassailable 18-12 advantage.
After taking a 2-1 game lead, Tennessee refused to let up, winning the opening point of the game for the first time and climbing out to a quick 8-3 lead before Riley called the first timeout.
With the Hokies down 11-18 in the fourth and final game, Riley called his second and final timeout in an effort to resurrect the match. The initial response was a thunderous cross-court spike from freshman middle blocker and right side hitter Kathryn Caine, but the Vols fired back scoring three of the next four points to put the match out of reach.
The Hokies now have a record of 5-4, while the Vols improved to 7-2 on the season.
Despite the loss, Record praised the younger players for their performances and said the team has plenty to work on before next weekend’s tournament.
“I felt like we had a lot of different lineups,” Record said. “I feel like the younger girls stepped in and played very well for the first time. I definitely think we can improve from this weekend because win or lose, we can always get better.”
Riley said he will focus on the team’s weaknesses, which are primarily defensive, this week in practice.
“We were fine offensively,” Riley said. “I will take that every time if we can be that offensive. Our weaknesses are on defense and blocking. We have to see where they are going and not give up easy swings. If they can go around us and through us, then that’s different. And we can’t give away easy points like we did tonight.”
The Hokies will host another tournament this weekend, beginning the Hilton Garden Hokie Invitational against U.Va. on Friday for Student Appreciation Night. On Saturday, the Hokies will play a double-header against Chattanooga and Connecticut.