UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Virginia Tech volleyball team looked anything but inexperienced this evening as they took down the University of Delaware Blue Hens, 3-0 (25-17, 25-23, 25-18), in the Hokies’ first ever NCAA Tournament match. Tech cruised to its highest hitting percentage of the season, attacking at a .367 clip, while holding the Blue Hens to just .204. Felicia Willoughby hit a career-high .786 with 11 kills and five blocks for the best Hokie clip of the season. The Hokies claimed their 20th win of the season, running their record to 20-11, while the Blue Hens end the year at 26-6.
“I’m really proud of this program,” said head coach Chris Riley. “I’m proud of the direction it’s gone and where these kids have taken it and I couldn’t be more proud of the group for their discipline and what they’ve given to the program in order to get us to this level.
“It was a challenge from day one but this group has taken it on as what their motto is and what their goals are and they’ve taken full charge of it. So, we’re pretty happy and pretty proud of it.”
The Hokies came out ready to play in the first set, quickly running out to a 4-1 lead. The Blue Hens finally earned their first kill of the match on the next play, as Alissa Alker slipped one past Tech to cut the lead to two. The Hokies came right back to win the next three points, care of a Cara Baarendse kill and two blocks by Felicia Willoughby, one with Jennifer Wiker and the other with Erin Leaser. Tech continued to dominate the Blue Hens, and soon had a 17-8 lead. The Hokies then strolled to set-point, up 24-15, and after allowing two Delaware points, Cara Baarendse finished it off, smashing a kill to the back corner to win the first set for Tech, 25-17.
The Blue Hens fought back in the second set, opening the frame up 5-1. However, the Hokies then won six of the next seven points to take a 7-6 lead, thanks to three kills and a block by Willoughby. Neither team led by more than two over the next 23 plays, and before long the score was tied at 18. Tech then took a 23-19 lead, but the Fightin’ Blue Hens would not go quietly, winning the next three points to cut the Hokies’ lead down to one. A Delaware ball-handling error made it set-point for Tech, but Katie Dennehy kept the Blue Hens alive with her sixth kill of the night, making it 24-23. Cara Baarendse then closed out the set once again, earning her ninth kill of the match and putting Tech up 2-0 with a 25-23 victory.
The third set started tight, neither team leading by more than one, as the score ran to a 6-6 tie. Tech then won three straight points with the help of two kills by Victoria Hamsher to go up 9-6, but the Blue Hens came right back to tie it at nine. The Hokies then pushed back in front 13-9, a lead which they held onto for the remainder of the set, winning the third frame on yet another Baarendse kill for a final score of 25-18 and a 3-0 sweep of the University of Delaware in Virginia Tech’s first ever NCAA Tournament match.
Sophomore Cara Baarendse led the Hokies with 12 kills, hitting .393 and adding four digs, an assist and a block solo. Senior Felicia Willoughby had a night to remember, smashing 11 kills in just 14 attempts for a career-high and team season-best .786 hitting percentage, while adding five blocks, two digs and an assist. She now has 1,284 career kills, which moves her into sixth place all-time at Virginia Tech, and her .331 hitting percentage remains on pace to break Tech’s all-time record at the end of this season. Freshman Victoria Hamsher tabbed 10 kills and a .529 attack percentage, adding two blocks, a dig and a service ace. Her efficient night elevated her season clip to .255, which would place her fifth all-time in the Hokies’ freshman record books.
Erin Leaser put up 38 assists, eight digs, three kills and a block, and Justine Record notched eight kills, six digs and two blocks. Morgan O’Neill and Amy Wengrenovich led the back row, registering 16 and 11 digs, respectively.
Tonight’s win allows the Hokies to advance to the second round of competition, where they will face either Niagara University or the three-time defending national champion Penn State Nittany Lions.
“If it’s Penn State, we’ve got a big task ahead of us,” Riley said, “but that doesn’t mean that it’s an unwinnable match. We’re going to have to be good; we’ll have to be better than tonight. It’s a David versus Goliath but I’m ok with that. I love this team, I like the way we play, and I think we can present some challenges for Penn State.”
“I think it’s gonna be fun,” starting libero Morgan O’Neill continued. “I’m really excited. I think everyone on our team is so excited for this challenge. If we can do it, that’s fantastic, and we’re just going to go out and fight as hard as we can, every point.”
“Considering that they have been the champs three years in a row, it will be a really big game for us and we will have to be on our best game as well,” noted Cara Baarendse. “We’ll have to focus on not making as many errors.”
Regardless of tomorrow night’s outcome, tonight’s win will forever be remembered by the 2010 squad.
“My heart dropped into my stomach,” O’Neill recalled. “My hands were shaking, it was so nerve-wracking, but it’s been the best experience ever. This team is so much fun to be around, we’re just this big family and it’s fantastic to be with them and to be here. It’s the greatest feeling, I can’t even describe it.”
“It’s such a great experience,” Baarendse added. “We never know if we will make it next year; it could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so we have to make the best of it. It’s great.”
Tech will play in the second round of the NCAA Tournament tomorrow night in University Park beginning at 7:30 p.m. LiveStats and video will be available online at www.ncaa.com, and the game will also be aired on the Big Ten Network.
For updates on Virginia Tech volleyball, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_VBall).