Those entering Memorial Gym on Friday night were greeted with temperature checks as they donned masks for the first Virginia volleyball match of the season.
A limited crowd — only student-athletes and family of coaches and players were allowed into the arena — made plenty of noise as UVa competed for the first time in months.
“I think we were surprised,” senior Sarah Billiard said of the noise. “We were not expecting to have a big, loud atmosphere. They really surprised us, and I think it gave us a boost. It was exciting to have people there. It definitely makes a difference.”
An energized UVa team took down its lone nonconference foe, The Citadel, to open its shortened fall campaign. The Cavaliers won the match in three sets (25-20, 25-21, 25-23), quickly dispatching of a pesky opponent.
UVa felt grateful to play a match in September. The Citadel was added to UVa’s schedule earlier this week, giving the squad a chance to play before October.
The Cavaliers took a few minutes to embrace their competitive edge.
The Citadel jumped out to a 12-5 lead in the first set, playing with energy as the Wahoos looked slow. After the rocky start, the Cavaliers found their footing. Billiard credited a timeout called by head coach Aaron Smith as the moment that turned the momentum.
“We stepped in, and we got a fire and we let it fuel and it showed,” Billiard said. “We got our attacking back up, our serve-receive got together a little bit and we were able to connect, and that’s why I think we got back in it.”
Behind four kills and two blocks from Billiard, UVa took the first set 25-20. The Cavaliers went on an impressive run to take a 17-14 lead after the early deficit. The home fans allowed to attend, which included a group of student-athletes, were pleased with the results.
Virginia’s players competed with face coverings, taking an additional measure to help keep those in attendance and those competing safe.
The second set remained close throughout, with neither team leading by more than three points until the final point of the set. Tied at 21, The Citadel committed three errors and Billiard added a kill to give UVa the second set 25-21.
Freshman Madison Morey was all over the court for the Cavaliers. She frequently put her body on the line to keep points alive, playing a crucial role in UVa winning the set. Morey finished the match with 20 digs.
UVa never panicked in the third set, erasing a late 22-19 deficit. The Cavaliers rattled off three consecutive points to tie the match at 22. They won three of the next four points to earn a 25-23 win in the third and final set.
The Cavaliers were thrilled to compete against a foe prior to the start of ACC play in October. The Wahoos took advantage of their one match outside the ACC, using the opportunity to pick up a solid win.
“Big credit to our administration, facilities and sports med and everyone that took a hand in making this event happen because it was really important for the team to get this one under our belt,” Smith said.