Volleyball secures spot in Big East Tournament

Matt Clark

Women’s volleyball went 1-1 this weekend in back to back games against Connecticut Nov. 16 and St. John’s Nov. 17. After this weekends games, the ‘Cats are now 14-14. Despite the loss to the Huskies, the win against St. John’s secured them a place in the Big East Championship tournament.

UConn, with a current record of 20-12 defeated the ‘Cats 3-1 at the Jake Nevin Field House. UConn snapped ‘Nova’s nine game winning streak, which was the team’s longest winning streak since 1997 when the ‘Cats also won nine in a row. “We had multiple opportunities and didn’t capitalize,” head coach Allison Keeley said. “Ideally we can use this as a learning experience to prepare us for Pitt next weekend.”

The ‘Cats dropped the first game against UConn, but were able to rebound in the second game and comeback from a seven point deficit with strong defensive play. Jennifer Badran-Grycan finished off the game with an ace to give ‘Nova a 30-26 win. However, the ‘Cats were unable to continue the strong play and dropped the next two games to lose the match.

Saturday the Wildcats faced off against St. John’s and extended their winning streak by taking the match 3-2, to keep their Big East Playoff hopes alive.

‘Nova took the first game 30-28 after building an early lead, along with an attack error by St. John’s ‘Cats grabbed the win. In game two, the Storm took an early lead to defeat the Wildcats. Game three followed in the same fashion as the Wildcats were unable to recover from an early three point deficit and dropped to St. John’s 30-25. Down by one game, with playoff hopes on the line, the ‘Cats came back from a 15-10 point shortage to the tie the game at 26. Down 28-27 Megan Abbot got the kill to put the ‘Cats back in the game. Dana Kabashima and Katie Lanting combined for a block to give the Wildcats the win and tie the match.

‘Nova’s drive continued into the fifth game grabbing an early 8-3 lead and never letting St. John’s come any closer than three to give ‘Nova the game and the match with a score of 15-9.

Lanting registered a match-high 21 kills for the ‘Cats, as Celine Nguyen and Dana Kabashima each registered a double-double in kills and digs, 17-21 and 15-16, in that order.

“I knew that this was our only shot at going to the tournament and before the match I had though about all the hard work we had put in this season,” Lanting said. “I finally started connecting better with my setter. It came down to who wanted it more, and our team really showed a lot of heart.”

After going 1-1 this weekend, the Wildcats Big East Tournament hopes lied in the hands of others. By beating St. John’s, Villanova would enter the play-offs in a tie-breaker situation, however, after dropping to UConn, ‘Nova needed outside help from Miami to beat Virginia Tech. And help they got, as Miami routed Virginia 3-0, allowing ‘Nova’s goal of making it to the Big East Tournament come true.

The ‘Cats will have back middle blocker, Kerri Sullivan who sat out against Towson, and saw limited play over the weekend due to a shoulder injury, just in time for the play offs. “It’s rested up for this coming weekend,” Sullivan said. “[In the past three years] we’ve gone from last in the conference to the Big East Championship [Tournament] and we plan to push further to the NCAA tournament.This marks the first time since the 1997 season, where the team lost in the title game, that Villanova has made the Big East Tournament. Historically, the ‘Cats have made the trip 15 times since 1982 and are 21-24 overall.

Saturday at 1:00 p.m. the ‘Cats will match up against No. 1 seeded Pittsburgh. The last time these two teams met was back on Oct. 4 before the ‘Cats’ remarkable 11-2 end of the season run. Villanova took an early 2-0 game lead but dropped the subsequent three matches in a 3-2 loss with game scores of 30-28, 30-23, 18-30 and 12-15.

This is also not the first time the Wildcats and Panthers have met in the Big East Tournament. They have met seven times, with the most recent being in 1996 where the Panthers defeated the Wildcats in the semi-finals 3-1.

Although Villanova has never beat Pittsburgh in the post season, their hopes are high. “We’re going to take everything we have learned this season and everything we have worked so hard for and just lay it all out and play the best volleyball we know how to play,” captain Erin Birunas said. “We are a talented team with a lot of heart; we are going to the Big East to win!”