BY BRANDON STARK
Featured photo: SU seniors Gianna Savarese and Nicole Venturelli wait at the net for the next point. Sept. 12. Brendan Link photo
Both the Salisbury University women’s volleyball team (10-6, 0-1 CAC) and Virginia Wesleyan University (7-5, 2-0 ODAC) came into Wednesday Night’s game off road loses to Southern Virginia. Ironically, both teams lost to the Southern Virginia Knights three sets to one.
The Marlins faced the Knights Tuesday night and traveled to face the Sea Gulls 24 hours later. Salisbury’s match vs. the Knights came last Saturday. Despite Salisbury’s result on the road, junior defensive specialist Hailey Dougherty recorded her 1,000th career dig in the maroon and gold on a night she led Salisbury in digs with 13.
“I did not find out until after the game. I knew I was close, but I did not know how many digs I had during the game,” Dougherty explained. “It was nice to finally hit that milestone. It’s been a lot of hard work and a long time coming. I would not have been able to do it without my teammates.”
On Wednesday, the Marlins were a tough test for Salisbury, winning 27 out of their 43 sets coming into the game, including five shutouts. Despite this, the Sea Gulls felt confident in their ability to win thanks to their hard work and preparation at practice.
“We’ve been preparing for this match-up for a while. Last year they beat us in five [sets], so we were ready to get some payback,” SU senior middle blocker Gianna Savarese said. “Being home is super nice, I love being at home. I know we always play great at home.”
The Marlins brought the heat to the Sea Gulls early and often. Down 11-6 in the opening set, Virginia Wesleyan rallied back to take a 12-11 lead. From there, the rest of the first set was very close, with the largest lead only being three. Salisbury eventually got the first set win 25-20 over the Marlins to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
After a back-and-forth opening in the second set, the Marlins gained and sustained a lead until the end of the set. Despite Salisbury’s efforts to come back into this set and regain the lead, Virginia Wesleyan defeated Salisbury 25-20 in the second set, tying the best of five series at one set apiece.
Salisbury was tested early in the third set, trailing 2-0. Initially, the Marlins would not surrender the lead, but the Sea Gulls finally broke through to lead 7-6. The third set especially featured many ties, lead changes and momentum swings.
Late in the set, Salisbury did get some separation and a decent lead. SU senior opposite hitter Carley Cleland converted the set-winning kill for Salisbury, as the Sea Gulls won 25-19, taking a 2-1 lead.
“When other teams go on runs, if we communicate well with each other on the court, we get out of runs pretty fast and we start our own,” SU volleyball head coach Justin Turco explained.
Unlike the first three sets of the match, the fourth set saw the Sea Gulls dominate the Marlins. Salisbury jumped out to an early 5-1 lead over VWU.
The Marlins tried to come back, scoring three consecutive points coming out of a timeout, only for Salisbury to regain the momentum and increase their lead. Sea Gulls eventually led 19-9 later in the set. The SU lead would remain, winning the set 25-15 and the match 3-1 for the victory over VWU.
“We just rode off our energy,” Dougherty explained. “[Our team] had really high energy coming into the fourth set. [Virginia Wesleyan] was a little dead. We were very confidence and knew what spots we could hit and what worked. We just executed our game plan really well.”
SU senior outside hitter Nicole Venturelli led the Sea Gulls in kills with 21, while also recording an assist and six digs. Alongside 10 digs and two service aces, junior setter Rachel Dubbs led the team in assists with 34.
Dougherty marked her night by leading SU in digs with 21 alongside seven assists. Savarese joined the Sea Gulls with 12 kills and a dig. A career-high for the freshman, outside hitter Amanda Chew picked up 18 digs along with nine kills.
Now 10-6 on the year, the Sea Gulls’ next home match comes on Saturday when they host Penn State Harrisburg (8-8) in their second conference match of the season. The match is set to start at 2 p.m.