By ZACH GILLELAND
Home for the first time in more than a month, the Salisbury University women’s volleyball team returned to Maggs Gymnasium to celebrate homecoming weekend. Friends, family and former Sea Gulls alike made the trip to Salisbury to participate in the festivities.
“The atmosphere was really awesome,” SU sophomore outside hitter Nicole Venturelli said. “We had the whole football team here and they were supporting us the whole time so it really helped to have them here.”
A rough start to conference play saw the Sea Gulls (13-7, 2-2 CAC) split their first two Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) match-ups against Southern Virginia and Frostburg State.
Facing perennial CAC foes in Christopher Newport and Mary Washington, the maroon and gold had an opportunity to get a key win to build momentum before the end of the regular season.
After dropping the first match-up to CNU Friday night, Salisbury defeated reigning CAC-Champion Mary Washington on Saturday.
Facing a top-25 opponent in the Captains, the Sea Gulls looked to avenge the loss that ended their season last fall in the CAC Semifinal game.
An intense back-and-forth match-up ensued in the first set. SU held an 11-10 lead early on and proceeded to win 11 of the next 14 points to take a 22-13 advantage. After a late CNU rally, a Venturelli kill and a Captain’s block that fell out of bounds propelled SU to a 25-19 first set victory.
“We executed our game plan pretty well,” SU head coach Justin Turco said. “It caused them to make adjustments that we have not seen them make this year and they made a few errors.”
The second set proved to be the closest of the night. With both teams deadlocked at 23 points apiece, the Captains took the second set after a kill by outside hitter Katie Pipper and an attack error by SU middle hitter Gianna Savarese.
Dimming the atmosphere after a close second set, CNU took the final two sets of the night, 25-16 and 25-18. Even with the loss, Turco was pleased with his team’s performance.
“I think we came out and battled,” Turco said. “I think the score did not represent how close the game actually was. We are close but we are not there yet and we just have to go back and work a little harder and get a little better.”
Venturelli and senior middle hitter Sydney Davis led the Sea Gulls with 10 and eight kills apiece. Sophomore setter Rachel Dubbs contributed 22 assists and defensive specialist Hailey Dougherty led the team with 23 digs.
Rounding out the weekend, Salisbury faced Mary Washington, a team that defeated SU in straight-sets last season.
A different story for the defending CAC Champions, the Eagles entered Saturday with six losses just one year removed from a 31-4 record and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Quarterfinals.
The Sea Gulls defeated the Eagles 3-1 to round out the weekend.
SU took the first set, using extra points to come away with a 31-29 win. Continuing back-and-forth and tied at 29, Salisbury won the set with consecutive kills from freshman Lacey Swartout and Davis.
Mary Washington answered, taking seven of the first eight points and coming away with a 25-19 second set victory.
Salisbury flipped the switch, taking nine of the first 10 points in the third set. The Eagles rallied to make it close, but SU pulled away with a 25-18 win.
The Sea Gulls took the fourth and final set 25-21. Tied at 21, the maroon and gold scored the final four points to win the match.
Dubbs had her strongest match of the season, contributing a season-high 34 assists. Venturelli led Salisbury with 19 kills. The junior leads the CAC with 314 kills and 4.24 kills-per-set.
Up next: The Sea Gulls will take on St. Mary’s (Md.) (3-15, 0-4 CAC) on Saturday at 3 p.m.