Shannon Wells’ first home match as Virginia volleyball head coach didn’t lack drama.
The Cavaliers played Akron in a five-set thriller, ultimately prevailing (16-25, 25-22, 22-25, 25-17, 15-12) to improve to 3-1 on the season. Virginia trailed 8-3 in the final set before a furious rally helped the Wahoos pull out the win.
“They’re resilient,” Wells said. “That’s something we’ve really been working on is just continuing to stay tough and ignoring the score.”
The three wins surpasses last season’s win total for Virginia, which was victorious just twice in 13 tries last year.
Here are three takeaways from the Cavaliers’ Friday night victory.
First home match of the Wells era
There’s reason for fans to be excited about the Cavaliers as they enter a new era of their program’s history. Wells comes to Virginia with a strong coaching background, finding tremendous success as an assistant coach at Florida. She’s hoping to build a stronger culture at Virginia, a program that fired its coaching staff a season ago and hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament in the last 20 years.
While maybe a small detail, Wells seemed to have complete command of her team’s huddle Friday. After a first-set defeat, Wells joined the huddle, asking her squad to “listen up.” Everyone fixed their attention on Wells for the next minute, locked in on their coach’s command.
They rallied to win the second set, showing improved execution from the opening set. UVa showed impressive resilience all night, eventually prevailing in five sets. It was a gritty effort from a team that went through a challenging 2020-21 season.
There’s a long way for UVa’s program to go as it hopes to become relevant in the ACC, but the relatively youthful team responded to Wells’ coaching style and demeanor Friday.
Shaffer headlines group of standouts
Sophomore outside hitter Mary Shaffer didn’t see the court much as a freshman, but she’s making an early impact in her second collegiate season. The team looked significantly better with Shaffer on the court.
“She’s been ready to have a breakout year,” Wells said.
When on court with Alana Walker, a Northwestern graduate transfer, the Cavaliers converted opportunities. Both players recorded respectable hitting percentages and impressive kill totals.
Shaffer headlines a group of talented young players for the Cavaliers. Freshman Brooklyn Borum, a top-25 recruit nationally according to PrepVolleyball.com, played much of the match for the Cavaliers. She struggled a bit early, but found her footing as the match went on. She played an important role for the Cavaliers in the fourth set.
Grace Turner, a senior, also impressed. Turner carried the team on a run early in the third set, energizing the crowd as UVa turned a 9-4 deficit to a 10-10 tie. The Cavaliers seemed poised to win the third set, but the Zips won the final five points to take the third set, 25-22.
UVa did well to close the match strong in the final two sets, leaning on Turner, Shaffer and Walker.
A sizeable contingent of UVa students attended the first home match of Wells’ Virginia coaching tenure. Memorial Gym was rocking in the early stages of the match, particularly in the second set.
After dropping the opening set 25-16, the Cavaliers used energy from the crowd to help propel them to a second-set win. Most portions of the bleachers were packed to the brim, and at times it appeared to be standing room only.
“This place is awesome,” Wells said. “The athletes continue to warn me of what it feels like to play in [Memorial Gym]. We got a little bit of a taste of it.”
Some of the students headed out after the second set and even more left the facility after the third set, but the overall atmosphere was strong for much of the match. The fans that stayed throughout were lively and engaged, giving Virginia a noticeable home-court advantage.