Wildcats open conference play with five-set win

Meaghan Bedigian

After snagging a Big East conference-opening win against St. John’s (12-6, 1-2 Big East) last Wednesday in a grueling five sets, the women’s volleyball team had high hopes for their Seton Hall (12-3, 2-0 Big East) game on Saturday to no avail. 

The Pirates bested them in an intense four sets with scores of 24-26, 25-19, 25-18 and 25-14. The Wildcats now hold a record of 8-9 and 1-1 in the Big East.

The team went into the Seton Hall matchup knowing it would be a challenge.

Villanova planned on focusing on improving its defensive game in order to prepare for Seton Hall’s solid offense for next time and combat other teams with strong hitters. 

Despite the loss, senior captain Allie DiBernardo broke her season record in assists by snagging 42 digs for the Wildcat offense, and she now holds the season team record for assists. 

Additionally, junior outside hitter Brittany Rembert improved her previous career high of eight kills with 11 kills against the Pirates. 

Notable performances by junior outside hitters Lauren Carpenter and Colleen Hickey with 15 and 10 kills respectively and sophomore middle blocker Michaela Berendt also with 10 kills made this the first game where more than two players had double digit kills.

The Wildcats had an impressive showing against St. John’s, rallying back from a rough second-set loss to top the Red Storm in a close five-set game with scores of 25-21, 11-25, 25-21, 21-25 and 15-13.

 “After we got blitzkrieged in game two, to hang in there and come back and play well in game three I thought was really the big difference,” Steinbach said. 

“To get that 2-1 lead was a big deal.”

After a missed serve on St. John’s side, the Wildcats started off strong with an 11-3 lead in the first set. 

The same fate met Villanova in the second set, though, opening with a service error and losing the lead early on.

The Wildcats lost the lead early in the third set, but were able to recover this time and force a lead change after fighting for a tie game at 5-5. 

Trouble came about when St. John’s forced another lead change after tying the game up at 18-18, but effective blocks on Villanova’s side allowed the Wildcats to recover the lead after a tie at 20-20 and win the set.

A close fourth set ensued, in which St. John’s possessed the lead the entire way through. 

Strong efforts were made by the Wildcat defense, especially toward the end of the set with strong back-row saves from freshman Allie Fitzgerald, but ultimately some offensive errors got the best of them. 

Fitzgerald, the Wildcat’s starting libero, had a promising game with a career high of 32 digs.

As pressures mounted in the fifth set when St. John’s took an early two-point lead, Villanova was handed a lead change in the form of a double fault, but couldn’t quite take advantage of the opportunity. 

Strong hitting from the Wildcats brought them to a tie at 9-9, and they were able to force another lead change. 

Even though the team struggled with service accuracy a few times throughout the match, a service ace from sophomore Makenzie Northrup eventually led to an uncomfortably close 15-13 victory, with included 10 tied scores along the way.

“The number one thing we ask them to do is to just play hard,” Steinbach said. “I thought we played really hard the whole way through and we stuck with it.”

Steinbach emphasized the importance of taking the lead early on, both ien an individual match and in the season as a whole.

“We always talk about how we want to be the best of the east teams every year and so St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown, we’ve got to take care of those matches,” Steinbach said. 

“We want to be better than those teams on an early basis and then we can worry about knocking off some of the west teams who are very good.”

The ’Cats have two away conference matches ahead of them, taking on Xavier tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Butler on Saturday at 6 p.m.