Volleyball extends winning streak to eight

Matt Clark

Villanova volleyball extended its winning streak to eight after topping Towson Nov. 11. The victory came after a pair of wins over Seton Hall and Rutgers this past weekend.

Tuesday night at Jake Nevin Field House ‘Nova (13-13) took a 3-1 decision over Towson (23-5) in non-conference action. The Wildcats took the first game 30-21, but the Tigers rallied for a 30-28 win in game two before the Wildcats sprang back into action and took games three and four, to win the match.

“It was a great win for us,” head coach Allison Keeley said. “We were a little hesitant coming in knowing that we had our Big East games next week, and having a big game in the middle of the week. We learned how to do some things in game situations that we’ve been working on, and that’s what we did. It was great to win.”

The ‘Cats played with high energy the entire match, and left it all out on the floor. With the victory, the ‘Cats snapped the Tigers’ 19 game winning streak. The Tigers also recently clinched the first seed in the Colonial Athletic Association.

Sophomore Celine Nguyen registered a double-double with 13 kills and 16 digs while Kati Lanting led the team with 22 kills.

The team played as a cohesive unit and all contributed to fill the void left by, middle blocker and offensive team leader, Kerri Sullivan, who was out with a knee injury.

In the fourth and final game the teams went back and forth with the lead until Nguyen made the game-winning spike off a set from Jennie Badran-Grycan.

With Tuesday’s win ‘Nova is in a prime position to capture a spot in the Big East Tournament and a chance at the title.

“We were the underdog all the way and it just gives us a lot of confidence going into the last two games of the Big East,” Lanting said.

On Sunday, the ‘Cats pulled out a 3-2 victory over the Seton Hall Pirates in a close match. The first game put ‘Nova all over the court making big plays to seal a 30-23 victory over the Pirates. The defensive efforts by Megan Abbot and Badran-Grycan played a large role in the win.

In game two, ‘Nova pulled out to a quick 8-2. However, the ‘Cats started to play out of sync and fell behind 13-10. Led by Nguyen, ‘Nova rallied back with help from the defensive wall of Lanting and Sullivan to go ahead 26-21. The Pirates cracked under the pressure and lost the match 30-26.

“Celine’s playing great,” commented Keeley. “I rarely take her out. She does too much work that keeps us really steady so when I put subs in, she keeps us steady. She’s a real go-to for us now as a hitter.”

After the first two matches, two totally different teams took the court for the final games. Despite the efforts, the ‘Cats defense had bad timing and the team was not communicating well.

The Pirates capitalized on the ‘Cats’ mix-ups and took a 21-14 lead. Kate Tucker, Lanting and Nguyen were able to help Villanova tie the game up at 29 but that wasn’t enough. Villanova lost the third match 31-29. Play stayed the same in game four as bad bounces, bad timing and bad communication caused the ‘Cats to fall 30-26.

In the final match with ‘Nova up 15-14, Keeley called a time out to regroup before a very critical play. “She told us what she tells us all the time,” Erin Birunas said. “Have confidence in ourselves and know we are a good team. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and that’s what we have to do, to go out and win the game.”

The women took Keely’s words to heart and on the last play captured the win 16-14, giving the ‘Cats the match 3-2.

Villanova posted four double figure kills by Nguyen, Lanting, Sullivan and Birunas; as well as four double figures digs by Nguyen, Dana Kabashima, San Hartwell and Jennifer Edwards.

The Wildcats swept the Rutgers 3-0 at home Nov. 7 with scores of 30-21, 30-20 and 30-22 respectively. The ‘Cats posted three double digit kills coming from Lanting, Sullivan and Nguyen. Nguyen had a double-double also posting 14 digs. Badran-Grycan and Edwards managed 17 and 15 assists respectively to help ‘Nova seal the win.

The matches against Seton Hall and Rutgers were must win Big East bouts and the ‘Cats answered the call. By defeating its last four Big East competitors ‘Nova is now 6-4 in the Big East and tied with St. John’s for fifth place; one place behind the final playoff spot.

With Notre Dame and Virginia Tech the only teams in the Big East to clinch a berth in the Big East Championship, anything can happen.

‘Nova has a tough weekend at coming up, with back to back home games against St. John’s (24-8) and Connecticut (17-12), on Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

The ‘Cats have to beat these final two Big East opponents to make the Big East Tournament. Besides ‘Nova, UConn and St. John’s both have to play George town, which holds a 9-17 record.

“It’s make it or break it time, our odds are 100 percent; we are ready to go,” Nguyen said. “We are playing like a team and everyone is confident and calm. We all have the same goals; to go to the Big East.”