Boston College volleyball entered the weekend having lost its last two matches in a heartbreaking, five-set fashion to a pair of tough conference teams in Notre Dame and Louisville. They were matches in which the Eagles competed well, but just could not find the finishing power down the stretch.
On Friday, BC left no room for doubt, defeating Virginia Tech three sets to zero, for just its second straight-set victory since September 20.
“We’ve been playing pretty well. We just kind of seemed to have faded down the stretch in those last two matches,” Eagles head coach Jason Kennedy said after the match. “We’ve gotten off to pretty good starts I think, and were fortunately able to sustain for a longer duration this time.”
Coming off a match in which she posted a career-high 20 kills, Clare Naughton paced the Eagles with 17 putaways for an Eagles (18-9, 9-5 Atlantic Coast) attack that hit at a .292 clip against the Hokies. Amaka Chukwujekwu, Gabby McCaa, and Mackenzie Fuhrmann all notched four blocks, in addition to a number of tips that paved the way for BC digs.
The first seven points of the first set would prove to set the tone for the rest of the match. Three kills, three Virginia Tech (9-17, 2-11 Atlantic Coast) errors, and an ace contributed to the Eagles opening up a 7-0 lead. Jill Strockis served all of those points, and the Hokies were having trouble returning the senior’s line-drives all set long: BC won 10 points served by Strockis in the set.
Virginia Tech could not seem to figure out how to finish its spikes in the first frame, sporting just a .068 hitting percentage, coupled with double-digit attack errors. The Eagles were playing very strong defense and were able to capitalize on those errors for a 25-17 victory.
In the second set, BC jumped out to a quick 4-1 lead, thanks to a pair of kills by Naughton, which were followed up by two blocks from the tandem of Chukwujekwu and Fuhrmann. The Eagles controlled a comfortable lead for most of the set and enjoyed their biggest advantage at 20-13, with a 2-0 match lead in its sights.
Jewel Strawberry, who leads the Eagles in kills this season, didn’t even see the court. Kennedy pointed to this being a matchup decision, and he praised the performance of less regular contributors like Fuhrmann and McCaa.
“The great thing about this team is that we have so many different people who can come in and be able to contribute,” Kennedy said.
However, Virginia Tech wouldn’t go down easily. It was improving on its hitting percentage, cutting down on its errors, and digging most of BC’s spike attempts. A series of drawn out, back-and-forth points, swung the Hokies’ way, cutting BC’s lead to two at 24-22. Then, another lengthy point saw Naughton fire a ball that was dug, but Virginia Tech middle blocker Anabel Zier was whistled for contacting the net on her block attempt, awarding the point—and the set—to Kennedy’s crew.
The third set opened much more even than the first two. The teams played to a 6-6 score before either team could make a stranglehold on the frame. But after that, the Eagles used two kills, an attack error, and another McCaa block to seize control and open up a four-point cushion. After conceding a point back to VTech, BC took another three in a row, benefitting from McCaa’s fourth block in taking a 13-7 lead.
From there, the Eagles continued to hit well, converting on a third of their attempts in the set en route to cruising to a 25-16 third set victory, getting back in the win column after the two recent close defeats. It was an all-around strong performance for this team that needs to play its best volleyball down the stretch in order to garner consideration for the NCAA Tournament.
Of BC’s final four games, three will be played away from Power Gym, and all four will be against opponents that the Eagles have already faced with this season. BC emerged victorious against three of the four teams left on the slate, but Kennedy knows the added difficulty in beating a team the second time around.
“Those guys are gonna be used to the speed and the tempo that we play now, so we’re going to have to adjust a little bit,” he said. “We’re going to have to find a way to make some changes which is good. It’s a good test for us to see who can adapt.”
Based on opponent record, the Eagles have the easiest remaining schedule of the top-seven teams in the conference, which could very well catapult BC up the conference standings and into contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Image by Aman Sinha / For The Heights