Coming off wins against Clemson and NC State the previous weekend, the Jackets traveled up to Blacksburg, Virginia, Friday night to face off against the Virginia Tech Hokies. While Virginia Tech opened the season on a hot streak, winning in their first 10 matches, they entered the Tech game on a three game skid.
The first set was a quick indication of which team had the confidence entering the match. Tech opened up to a quick 11-6 lead thanks to a great service run from fifth year libero Paola Pimentel that included two aces. While Virginia Tech tried to battle back to all square, another long service run from senior setter Bella D’Amico and multiple kills from emerging superstar freshman outside hitter Larissa Mendes gave the Jackets a commanding lead that they would not relinquish. A timely, decisive kill from graduate middle blocker Afedo Manyang closed out the convincing opening set in favor of the Jackets 25-16.
The second set was much the same as the first set. Tech started with the serve, and junior outside hitter Bianca Bertolino roped off three aces with her powerful topspin serve and opened a quick 5-0 lead. Great play from sophomore middle blocker Liv Mogridge defined much of the rest of the set. Not only did Mogridge have three kills, but she also had a couple of critical service aces to help lead the Jackets to a dominant second set victory by a score of 25-14.
The Hokies were not going to roll over and go down without a fight though. Unlike the first two sets, Virginia Tech came out of the gates hot, cruising to an early lead. Tech was able to even it square at 10-10 after a Bertolino kill on an assist from freshman setter Heloise Soares. The back and forth affair continued until the Jackets went on a run with the help of kills from Manyang and junior middle blocker DeAndra Pierce to take a four point advantage. At that point, it was too late for the Hokies to mount a comeback. Even after a four point run of their own, the Hokies were down too much as the Jackets had too large of a lead and an attack error from Virginia Tech clinched the match 25-21. Mendes led the team in kills with 12 while Mogridge followed closely with 8. D’Amico led the team with 21 assists, but Soares, who many believe to be
D’Amico’s successor, also had 13 assists of her own. Overall, Tech fully displayed their talent in a great team performance to knock off a struggling Hokies squad.
After a commanding victory in Blacksburg, the Jackets continued their road trip in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, taking on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Demon Deacons had accumulated a ton of momentum coming into the match, beating ACC foe Clemson in a three-set sweep. The Jackets would have to win without the talents of Mogridge and D’Amico, but instead with junior right-side hitter/ middle blocker Anna Boezi and Soares. In the first set, the Jackets swarmed, opening a quick 6-4 lead with the help of a four-point service run from Pimentel. Even with this fast start, the Demon Deacons were there to compete, quickly fighting back and retaking the lead 12-10. The Demon Deacons’ lead grew to as much as four, but the Jackets swung again, bouncing back using two kills from Pierce as momentum. The back-and-forth affair continued until the set was tied at 20, and then a four-point run gave the Jackets a triple set point. Bertolino closed the set with a kill to narrowly win the first set 25-22.
The Jackets struggled to back up their first set performance throughout the second set. After hitting at a .256 clip in the first set, Tech only hit .128 in the second on the same amount of total attempts. These hitting woes gave the Demon Deacons an opportunity to capture the second set and they did not miss that opportunity. An attack error from senior outside hitter Tamara Otene gave the Deacons the second set 25-22.
Following the hitting woes in the second set, the Jackets didn’t change their game plan as they came out swinging hard again in the third set. Tech committed considerably less attack errors and hit at a dominating .345 rate. Not only did the hitting improve continuously throughout the match, so did the defense under the leadership of Boezi, who had a career high of eight blocks on the game.
While both replacements played stellar, Bertolino was the player of the match, leading the team with 22 kills, five of which came sporadically throughout the third set. In what proved to be a smart decision, Head Coach Michelle Collier decided to utilize junior outside hitter/right side Leia Harper during the third set. A Harper kill gave the team a 22-19 lead and then a Pimentel service ace provided the momentum for the Jackets to capture a third set victory 25-22. Neither side was ready to back down in the match.
The highly competitive sets did not cease as the Jackets entered the fourth set up 2-1, needing a win to secure the match. In the fourth set, the Demon Deacons jumped out of the gates, growing a quick five point lead at 13-8. The lead was sustained until the Jackets started to make a run. Senior setter/defensive specialist Liz Patterson led the way with a pair of aces, and the set began to tighten up. But every time the Jackets would try to pull off a comeback, the Deacons did not back down and would respond with a run of their own. Eventually, Wake Forest would go on to win 25-21 in the fourth set to extend the match to a final, all-deciding fifth set.
The Jackets could not have asked for a better start to the fifth set. With the score at 2-1, Bertolino came up to serve and rattled off three aces in a five-point run. But that was not going to deter the Deacons. Even with a six-point deficit, the Deacons fought back all the way to 11-8, but ultimately, their slow play to begin the set was too much to overcome. Kills from Bertolino and Mendes clinched the highly contested match 15-12 in favor of the Jackets.
Once again, Bertolino was the story of the match with 22 kills, four aces and 14 digs, proving to the Jacket faithful why she is so vital. The Jackets now boast a 13-1 record, their third best start in program history, with only the 2003 and 1996 teams having better starts. Tech will hope to continue this record setting start against the highly ranked University of Pittsburgh Panthers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the Fitzgerald Field House next Friday, Oct. 6. The Jackets will then travel to take on the Virginia Cavaliers before returning to O’Keefe Gymnasium for matches against Florida State and Miami.