Undefeated Wildcats prepare for real test

Courtney Scrib

Any team can say it has chemistry, but few teams can actually prove it.

Heading into the 2005 Villanova Volleyball Classic last weekend, the women’s volleyball team had already begun showing signs of coming together with an upset over New Mexico on Sept. 3, as well with wins over less competitive teams, like LaSalle and UMBC.

“Even when the competition isn’t as hard, we never play down to teams,” junior Jenna Link said. “We always play at our level. We play our game.”

Link, who transferred to Villanova from the University of Alabama this year, has immediately become a presence on the court for the Wildcats (10-0). Last week the setter was the only player to compete in all 16 games and recorded a .333 hitting percentage, 179 assists and seven blocks.

“Villanova couldn’t be more different from my last school,” Link, who was named to the Big East Honor Roll this week, said. “It’s definitely smaller. The people are great, and the volleyball is amazing here. “

Link is not the only newcomer to have made such a smooth transition onto the team. Freshman Alona Cherkez, Dana Tartazky, Whitney Harrrington and Emily Brown also have made big contributions.

“All of the new players on the team make our team deeper and give us more options,” head coach Gilad Doron said. “They’re a competitive group of girls who want to get better.”

For the second time this season, the Big East named Cherkez the conference’s Rookie of the Week for her efforts in last week’s competition. In five games, the outside hitter recorded 4.50 kills and hit .379. Cherkez also earned the MVP award at the Villanova Classic, in which she recorded 22 digs and her third and fourth double-doubles of the season.

On the first day of the two-day home competition, Villanova quickly asserted itself as the tournament’s most dominant team after shutting out Wagner (30-14, 30-16, 30-8) and Morgan State (30-14, 30-23, 30-16).

As a team, the ‘Cats hit .452 for the match against the Seahawks and out-served their opponent 10 to three. Junior middle blocker Adrian Semrau hit a career-best .652 with nine kills, 13 total attempts and no errors. In the later match, she went on to add another eight kills.

In addition to Semrau, other core veteran players Kacy Sellers and Celine Nguyen also played key roles in Friday’s matches.

Sellers, who joined Semrau and Cherkez on the All-Tournament team, was a perfect eight-for-eight with no errors and served three straight aces in the first game against Wagner. Meanwhile, Nguyen led ‘Nova with nine kills and a .533 hitting percentage in the win over Morgan State.

“The depth of our team has really helped us,” outside hitter Nguyen said. “The newcomers have provided more options. Plus, the experience of last year’s players helps. We know how to play together and what to expect from one another on the court.”

On Saturday, the team once again relied on their chemistry and versatility to lead them past their opponents. After sweeping Rider (30-23, 30-19, 30-14) in the first match, the Wildcats defeated LaSalle in three games (30-13, 30-14, 30-21). With the win, Villanova not only won the tournament but also maintained an undefeated season record.

However, despite winning 10 straight games, both the players and coaches still feel as if they have something to prove.

“We’ve done what we needed to do to win our matches, but the real test is coming up,” Doron said. “If we can steal a couple of games or even a match [this weekend], then that would be very good for us.

“Our goal is to measure ourselves against top teams,” Doron continued. “We have to determine how well we can compete against these teams.”

This weekend Villanova faces its toughest competition of the season when the team travels to Wisconsin to take on nationally-ranked Wisconsin (No. 13) and UCLA (No. 10). There are expected to be close to 5,000 people in attendance.

“I couldn’t be any more excited to have the opportunity to play teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation,” Sellers said. “We have to go into this weekend with confidence and put our best game out there and show other teams what we’re made of.”

Like Sellers, the other team members acknowledge that this weekend is going to require them to play at the top of their game, but for them, no team is unbeatable nor any upset impossible.

“We may not be big, but we have fast, small hitters, and we want it more,” Link said. “If we play hard and we play smart and we play fast, then we can beat them.”