The beginning of ACC competition marks the most important part of the schedule for any team, a statement holding true for the Virginia Tech volleyball team.
After an up-and-down start to the season, the Hokie volleyball team begins conference play this weekend at the University of Virginia’s tournament in Charlottesville.
Currently eighth in the ACC with a 6-3 record, the Hokies have seen mixed results in non-conference play. They lost two of three to start the season in the (Missouri) Tiger Invitational, including a five-set heartbreaker to No. 23 Michigan. They then won their next five, dropping only three sets in those five matches.
That recent success bodes well for the team, building both confidence and teamwork.
“I think it will help start our season off in the right direction,” said senior middle blocker Jenn Wicker, after sweeping the Hokie Hilton Garden Invitational in late August. “We were able to really work together as a team and it will get us ready for some really tough ACC teams coming up.”
The Hokies went dancing two seasons ago, chosen as a bubble team from the field. They won their first round game, before losing to eventual National Champion Penn State in three sets. Last season they finished with a similar record, but were not selected to the tournament.
In order to make it back, the Hokies will need big play from their two seniors up front, Wicker and Cara Baarendse.
Baarendse, a two-time All-American Honorable Mention and All-ACC middle blocker, has been the Hokies’ attacking focal point for most of her time in Blacksburg. In the opening game against Nicholls State, Baarendse rolled over 1,000 career kills and is quickly heading towards the career top ten in that category.
Wicker, a 6-foot, 3-inch middle blocker, has had a strong start to her senior season. She has 110 kills, good for second on the team, while also serving as a force on the defensive end. Wicker played volleyball over the summer for Team USA at the 2012 Women’s National Volleyball A2 Tournament; she was one of 48 collegiate volleyball players to receive the honor.
The Hokies will also need big play from middle blocker Tori Hamsher and outside hitter Samantha Gostling, both juniors.
Hamsher, who tallied 150 blocks last season (the third-highest in team history), is the center of a tough Hokie front line. She has already totaled a team-high 32 blocks this season.
Gostling looks to be the Hokies’ break-out performer. Named the MVP of the Hokie Hilton Garden Invitational, Gostling has a team high 113 kills through nine games (over half of her 28-game total from last season). If the Hokies succeed on offense, Gostling will have to have a big time junior campaign.
After the first three home games (all Tech wins), head coach Chris Riley was very complimentary of his offense.
“I thought we were very good offensively,” Riley said. “Our serving was better than the previous weekend and I thought we were aggressive and consistent all weekend. We had some big time performances from (Gostling).”
If the Hokie offense can keep it up, they should be a tough out not only in Charlottesville, but throughout conference play.