One success followed another this week for the women’s volleyball team.
After sweeping the competition to win the title at the Wildcat Classic, the ‘Cats saw the Big East recognize one of their players, Stephanie Olsen, as the conference’s Rookie of the Week.
“This was a great weekend for us,” junior Celine Nguyen said. “Unlike last week’s [LMU Four Points Sheraton Classic] tournament, we came out on our home court playing with a dominant presence and with more confidence.”
In its first match of the two-day tournament, which was played at Nevin Gymnasium on Sept. 10 and 11, Villanova defeated Virginia Commonwealth in three games, 30-21, 30-20 and 30-18. Despite only competing with eight players, the Wildcats remained efficient in both offense and defense throughout the match. Four team members, including Nguyen, sophomore middle blocker Adrian Semrau, junior outside hitter Dana Kabashima and freshman Kacy Sellers, reached double figures in kills. Villanova also made just 17 team-attack errors.
“It was very exciting to have our first home matches,” Sellers, who added 10 kills in the ‘Cats’ home opener, said. “We were all very pumped up and had the mindset that we were going to win our home tournament.”
Continuing the momentum that started on the first day, Villanova once again eased its way to victory over Binghamton in its second match of the tournament. The Wildcats’ effective hitting and eight service aces proved too much for the Bearcats, as they fell to Villanova in three games, 30-14, 30-23 and 30-12. Sophomore outside hitter Kelly Ludwig led the team with a career-high 13 kills but would later surpass that personal record in the championship game.
After cruising past their other opponents, the ‘Cats’ real test came in the final match of the tournament against Fairfield.
“Our match against Fairfield on Saturday night was very tough,” Sellers said, “but I believe our mental focus and conditioning is what helped us pull through in game five.”
Sellers added 16 kills and had a team-best eight blocks in the match that lasted over two hours.
After being two games down and facing a Villanova match point at 29-28, the Stags rallied back to force a fifth game. Over the course of the game, there were 10 ties and three lead changes.
However, Villanova refused to be pushed around, especially on its home court. Consecutive kills by Kabashima capped off a four-point run by the Wildcats and secured them the championship.
“The team showed a lot of character,” Nguyen said. “Coming back from being down five points towards the end of a match takes a lot of discipline and mental toughness which we proved we had.”
Although the victory was a team effort, three of the Wildcats were recognized for their exceptional performances.
Freshman setter Stephanie Olsen was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after averaging 13 assists per game in three matches and totaling 70 assists in the match against Fairfield. Nine of those assists came in the pivotal fifth game.
“Stephanie really stepped up,” Sellers said, “and helped lead us to victory.”
In addition to Olsen, Kabashima, who had a career-high 25 digs in the championship match and earned her second double-double of the tournament, and Nguyen, who leads the team this season with 3.38 kills per game, were also members of the All-Tournament team.
On Monday, Olsen was again rewarded for her accomplishments by being named the Big East’s Rookie of the Week. She was the first Wildcat to earn the award since November 2002 when her teammate Nguyen received the same honor. After just playing six matches in her collegiate career, Olsen has averaged 11.90 assists per game and is tied for the team lead with seven service aces.
This weekend the Wildcats (3-3) return to action in the Wildcat Classic, by Northwestern University. On Friday, they will take on nationally-ranked Stanford before facing Western Kentucky on Saturday.