By Zach Gilleland
The Salisbury University women’s volleyball team continued its undefeated streak at home Friday, defeating Southern Virginia in straight sets.
In the second to final game of the regular season, the Sea Gulls (19-7, 7-1 CAC) looked to provide momentum heading into the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) tournament. They faced a young, inexperienced Knights (7-15, 2-6 CAC) team with 11 freshman and no seniors on its roster.
Salisbury’s relentless offensive attack came ready to play in the first set. The Sea Gulls started with four-consecutive kills from senior middle hitter Jordan Lawson, junior middle hitter Sydney Davis and senior outside hitter Katie Stouffer.
The inexperience of Southern Virginia showed, as the team committed seven errors in the first set. This allowed Salisbury to create a comfortable lead, winning 25-13 in the first set.
“The energy was the key, and we worked on that in practice this week, constantly talking until we were out of breath and cheering on our teammates,” Stouffer said. “We realized as the season has progressed that when we are talking, when we’re loud, when we’re encouraging them, we’re fighting and constantly focused on the game and that’s when we get on runs, take the game and really succeed.”
Salisbury was unable to feed off the energy early in the second set. Miscommunication hurt the Sea Gulls and allowed the Knights to claim an early 9-5 lead. Head Coach Justin Turco proceeded to take a timeout to allow his players to regroup.
“I told them just to trust each other, it’s a good team we’re facing, they’re going to go on the runs like they did in the second set,” Turco said. “Just to trust each other, play our game, make the little adjustments that we made and just play our style of volleyball and be the aggressor.”
Coming off the timeout, a rejuvenated Salisbury team scored 20 of the final 30 points in the set. Sophomore outside hitter Nicole Venturelli had the final two kills, giving the Sea Gulls a 25-19 win in the second set.
Salisbury continued its groove heading into the third set, racing to an early 12-2 lead. Southern Virginia rallied late, but big offensive plays by Venturelli and Stouffer allowed the Sea Gulls to take the third set 25-19 and with it the match.
Those in attendance at Maggs Gym also saw a glimpse of history as senior defensive specialist Shannon Russell recorded career dig number 1,000. Russell notched the dig during the third set, and the Salisbury bench erupted for their teammate. The fans also congratulated Russell, giving her a standing ovation.
“As long as it sets us up for a season championship, that will make it mean even more,” Russell said.
Stouffer led the offensive effort with 14 kills. Davis and Venturelli followed with 11 and 12 kills apiece. Setting up the outside hitters was freshman setter Rachel Dubbs, who provided 36 of the Sea Gulls’ 41 assists.
The Salisbury defense was able to dig numerous kill attempts from Southern Virginia, keeping the play alive. The offense was able to spread the ball around, feeding the ball to the outside and allowing the outside hitters to find an open shot.
“[Southern Virginia] had a great offense as well, we were able to dig them and get a playable ball,” Stouffer said. “[Rachel Dubbs] killed it, she was moving the ball around and distributing the sets while giving the hitters a chance to get around the blockers, so the offense was just able to have fun out there.”
With a win today the Sea Gulls move closer to securing a first-round bye in the CAC tournament. Salisbury finds itself in a three-way tie for first place in the CAC with Marymount (21-6, 7-1 CAC) and Mary Washington (25-3, 7-1 CAC). The Sea Gulls take on archrival Frostburg State Saturday, with tournament seeding on the line.