A lot can be said about the way a team performs in must-win games, which means this weekend will say a lot about the Virginia Tech volleyball team.
Playing host to Clemson on Friday and Georgia Tech on Saturday, the 13-10 Hokies are in need of two big wins to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive. A tall task, but nothing a talented Tech team hasn’t seen before.
Only two weekends ago, the Hokies came into a weekend series in Cassell Coliseum, desperately needing two wins. They got them, beating Duke and Wake Forest and keeping their postseason dreams alive in the process.
This weekend, the team comes back to Blacksburg after dropping two consecutive matches to Florida State and Miami. The match in Coral Gables was a heartbreaker for the Hokies, who took the 24th-ranked Hurricanes to extra points in two of the three set matches, including a first that ended 28-26 in favor of Miami.
The game against the 12th ranked Seminoles was not quite as close as the Hokies could never quite get over the top, eventually losing in three sets.
This weekend Tech is playing in the comfort of their own home. The Hokies are 6-3 in the familiar bounds of Cassell, but also face the challenge of playing two teams in which they have already lost to earlier in the season.
During first weekend in October, Tech traveled to Atlanta and Clemson and suffered two losses, picking up only one set in the process. The losses were the start of a four game slide for the Hokies, making their journey to the postseason even harder.
However the skid did make one positive contribution for the team. Coach Chris Riley elected to change team formations from a 5-1 to a 6-2. The switch, which was implemented before the Duke and Wake series, The 6-2, is designed to help with blocking at the net as well as contributing to the offense by putting one more offensive player up front.
While the team’s record with the new formation is only 2-2, the team has seen a boost in performance on both sides of the net.
“I think that these new lineups are really going to benefit us going into these games,” said junior middle blocker Tori Hamsher.
This game is also essential in terms of the ACC standings. The Hokies, Tigers and Yellow Jackets all sit around fifth in the conference, with Clemson and Georgia Tech tied with a 7-6 conference record and Tech just a game behind them at 6-7. While there is no conference tournament in volleyball, the higher a team finishes in the conference the better their tournament resume looks, and don’t think that is being overlooked by the Hokies.
“We really have a new focus on the NCAA Tournament,” Hamsher said .
Winning against the Tigers and Yellow Jackets this weekend would send the Hokies into the last five games of the season with a different kind of energy, one that is seen in teams with the postseason in their grasp.
The Hokies are just two years separated from the first tournament birth in school history, being selected as a bubble team in 2010. The team won its first round match, before falling to eventual champion Penn State.
While it may seem like a lot to ask, the Hokies are prepared for what will be a battle for the last few bubble spots. A battle that will begin with this weekend series, setting the tone for a hopeful rest of the season.