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October 8, 2008

Volleyball the cream of Tech's crop in early going with 14-2 start

By: Matt Kovatch

One could make the argument that the biggest surprise of Virginia Tech’s fall season thus far has been the play of the volleyball team, which, as of Oct. 5th, found itself atop the ACC standings as the only unbeaten team at 5-0. With an overall record of 14-2, the Hokies have already matched their win total from a year ago, and with 15 contests to go, are already more than halfway to their eight conference wins from 2007.

The Hokies cruised through their non-conference portion of the schedule with a 9-2 mark, but that was to be expected with some rather pedestrian opponents on the other side of the net. But then came conference play and two huge tests on back-to-back weekends.

Tech, chosen by the league’s coaches in a preseason poll to finish eighth, played host to Clemson and Georgia Tech on Sept. 26th and 27th. The Tigers and Yellow Jackets were picked first and second, respectively, in that same poll, and Clemson came in as the defending ACC champion. The Hokies rolled, however, losing only one set to the Tigers before sweeping the Yellow Jackets, and that all came on the heels of a three-game sweep of rival Virginia earlier in the week.

“We have a young team, but we knew that we were talented,” Tech head coach Chris Riley said. “We were pretty happy after the win against Virginia, but we knew we had two tough ones coming up because Clemson and Georgia Tech were both top 25-caliber teams. They are teams we’ve beaten in the past, but we’ve also split with them quite a bit, so being able to beat Georgia Tech in three and Clemson in four was a good confidence builder for our team.”

Once the Hokies established that they could take care of the top teams at home, the next test – though against weaker opponents in Maryland (Oct. 3rd) and Boston College (Oct. 5th) – would come on the road. Tech went just 2-11 away from Cassell Coliseum a year ago, but the Hokies swept through both the Terrapins and the Eagles in straight sets to extend their winning streak to 11 matches in a row.

Two players in particular have really stepped up in the early going – junior middle blocker Betsy Horowitz, who is neck-and-neck with Felicia Willoughby for the team lead in blocks and hitting percentage, and freshman setter Erin Leaser, who has gradually assumed most of the setting duties from Michelle Lang.

“Betsy has been doing a really good job,” Riley said. “She was hurt a lot last year, so she was kind of in and out of games and practices. But this year, she’s been able to practice every day, and that’s really helped her to be able to perform on the court. We saw all of those things last year, but she just wasn’t physically able to play every day.

“And Erin is putting up a consistent ball for the hitters to swing at. She’s a freshman who is making good choices and really doing well with leadership opportunities. I think our team has adapted really well to her.”

Women’s soccer loses Gray for season

The women’s soccer team suffered a big loss in more ways than one on Sept. 21st. Not only did the Hokies fall by a score of 4-3 in double overtime to James Madison, but star forward Marika Gray went down with a torn ACL and is done for the season. Gray, a sophomore from Alexandria, Va., was named to the All-ACC second team as a freshman and had tallied four goals and two assists in eight games before the injury.

Tech has played admirably in her absence, though, and picked up ties on the road against Miami on Sept. 25th and Clemson on Oct. 2nd. The Hokies then blanked N.C. State 3-0 on Oct. 5th to push their record to 6-4-2.

Gilson gets men’s soccer out of rut

The men’s soccer team has struggled out of the gates this season with a 3-6-1 record as of Oct. 4th, and that is also partly due to a slew of injuries, including a hernia surgery that ended junior Charlie Campbell’s season after just four games.

But junior James Gilson helped put an end to a four-game losing streak when he converted a penalty kick in the 88th minute to lead Tech to a 2-1 victory over George Washington on Sept. 30th. He also scored in a loss to No. 1 Wake Forest on Oct. 4th, and he has three goals and three assists on the season.

Fanning pacing the pack for cross country

Senior All-American Tasmin Fanning has picked up right where she left off a year ago on the cross country course, having won each of the two meets she’s run in this season. She helped the Hokies finish second to ACC foe Florida State in the Virginia Tech Alumni Invite on Sept. 22nd by winning the individual crown by nearly 30 seconds, an effort that earned her ACC Performer of the Week honors. She also placed first – as did the men’s Devin Cornwall – at the Highland Duel on Oct. 3rd.