Standing in a gym surrounded by over 4,000 screaming fans, sophomore Kacy Sellers (10-3) knew she was in for an experience unlike anything she had ever encountered before.
“The atmosphere in Wisconsin was crazy,” Sellers, an outside hitter/middle blocker for the women’s volleyball team, recounted. “Playing [there] wasn’t like anything we had seen this season.”
As the noise from the stands continued to escalate, the ability to communicate became more difficult. Not only could the players not hear the coaches from the bench, but they weren’t even able to hear one another on the court.
“As an athlete, you want to play in front of 5,000 fans,” Coach Gilad Doron said, “but you must prepare yourself to communicate and focus.”
The ‘Cats (10-3) struggles were not limited to communication. In the first game against No. 13 Wisconsin at the Inn Towner Invitational, the team was limited to only 23 kills and a .019 hitting percentage. In three games (21-30, 10-30, 18-30), the Badgers handed the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
On the second day of competition, the Wildcats’ efforts once again came up short against physically stronger teams.
In a closely-contested match against Valparaiso, junior Adrian Semrau led Villanova with 17 kills and recorded three blocks. In addition to Semrau, senior outside hitter Celine Nguyen also posted a double-double with 15 kills and 18 digs.
However, ultimately the ‘Cats fell to the Crusaders in four games (30-27, 24-30, 26-30, 25-30).
“If we had played a perfect game, we could have beat Valparaiso,” Doron said. “They were bigger and tougher. [Because of the size difference] we just have to play with a lot more.”
Later that day the Wildcats faced its biggest test of the tournament against No. 11 UCLA. With four players reaching double figure kills, the Bruins swept Villanova in three games (25-30, 27-30, 16-30). Meanwhile, only one Villanova player, freshman outside hitter Alona Cherkez reached double figures with 12 kills. Cherkez, who has been a consistently dominant force for the ‘Cats this season, also recorded seven digs and the team’s only service ace.
Despite the losses, the Wildcats welcome the opportunity to play nationally-ranked teams and be challenged. For Sellers and her teammates, every match,win or lose,allows them to learn and see their true ability.
“It was a great test to play these top-ranked teams and definitely prepared us for our conference play coming up,” Sellers added.
On Saturday Villanova plays its first Big East opponent of the season at Pittsburgh. Last season the Panthers finished second overall in the conference and were selected to third this year in preseason conference polls. In addition, Pittsburgh is returning some of the best hitters in the conference, including last year’s Big East Rookie of the Year, Diane Andreyko.
“This weekend will determine a lot for us,” Doron said. “We’re going to have to prepare to play tough and do anything that we can do to get an edge.”
In order for the ‘Cats to defeat Pittsburgh, Doron believes that maturity and commitment are essential.
He is also hopeful that hard-hitting freshman Donna Tartazky, who has been recovering from an injury, will be able to provide a spark off the bench.
The last time the Wildcats defeated Pittsburgh was in 1999.
“This weekend is [the players’] chance to do something special,” Doron said. “I want them, especially the seniors, to be able to say that they did something that other generations weren’t able to do.”