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by Mark Mullany

The volleyball team snapped a six-game losing streak in thrilling fashion last weekend by beating the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 3-1, and by dethroning the Big East’s top squad, the Seton Hall Pirates.

Last Friday at the “Jam the Jake” event, the Wildcats got their first win in Big East play against the Scarlet Knights, with set scores of 25-16, 25-21, 23-25 and 25-21.The crowd’s electricity permeated the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse, as ’Nova opened with an 8-2 lead in the first set.

The Scarlet Knights tried to ice the momentum with a time out, but the Wildcats kept spiking and capitalizing on Rutgers’ errors. ’Nova’s largest lead in the first set was 18-9. However, the Wildcats ended with a 7-7 run to take the opening set. Rutgers’ better play, which started at the end of this set, carried over into the next one.

The Scarlet Knights opened the second set with a 5-1 run. They went on to take a 9-3 lead, which was capped by an ace from their freshman defensive specialist Ronnie Komisarek.

Following a Rutgers error, the Wildcats began to piece together their comeback. In the next play, junior libero Mariah Henley made a beautiful dig that led to a kill by senior outside hitter Krista Andersen, who was assisted by freshman setter Emma Pettit. From there, ’Nova went on a 9-5 run to tie the set at 14-14, ending with a kill by senior middle blocker CeCe Twitty.

After Rutgers took the lead back, 16-15, freshman middle blocker Gabby Pethokoukis spiked the ball, only to have two Rutgers blockers deflect it back.  Showing great focus, Pethokoukis tapped the ball high in the air, leading Rutgers senior outside hitter Kylie Orr to shoot it out of bounds.After the set had its final tie, 20-20, Carpenter nailed two consecutive kills, kicking off a 5-1 run that gave ’Nova a 2-0 set lead in the match.

The Wildcats looked unstoppable at the start of the third set when they took a commanding 7-0 lead. Then, the Scarlet Knights stole the momentum with an 11-3 run. The lead volleyed back and forth between the two teams for the rest of the set.

Sophomore defensive specialist Ally Moskitis served back-to-back aces, allowing ’Nova to break away with a small 19-17 lead. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to take the third set, as Rutgers rattled off an 8-4 run to give the Scarlet Knights the set victory.

The final set continued to be a close battle. After a few ties, the Scarlet Knights put together a 13-9 lead. The ’Cats reduced the margin and kept tying the score.

They didn’t get a lead until Henley fired an ace that grazed the top of the net, making the score 19-18.

After another tie, Twitty slammed an ace of her own for a 20-19 Villanova lead.

’Nova never lost the lead again and ultimately clinched the match. Carpenter led the squad with 14 kills. Andersen and Pethokoukis connected on 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Pettit was a masterful facilitator with 43 assists, and Henley kept the game alive by contributing 34 digs.

Two days later, ’Nova returned to the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse and earned a hard-fought five-set victory over Seton Hall.

The ’Cats had an impressive start in the opening set by taking a 6-2 lead, which included kills by Twitty and Pettit and blocks by junior outside hitter Carly Edwards and Carpenter. Seton Hall countered back with a 9-1 run to take an 11-7 lead in the set.

The Pirates appeared to have a command over the first set with a 17-12 lead, until Carpenter connected on a kill and was followed by an Edwards block.

Shortly after, Seton Hall committed several errors. The Wildcats capitalized on the Pirates’ mistake and stole the first set, 25-22.

The following set started close with a 12-12 tie. Then, Seton Hall took a 20-15 lead. ’Nova came within two, 18-20, but the Pirates won the second set, 25-19.

The ’Cats jumped out to an 8-4 lead in the third set before Seton Hall tightened the margin to two. However, ’Nova never relinquished the lead, and ended up dominating the third set, 25-16.This dominance continued deep into the fourth set. At its height, ’Nova led 19-9. However, the top-ranked Pirates did not go down without a fight. They methodically chipped away at the deficit until the score was tied at 25-25. Unfortunately, the ’Cats had an error, and the Pirates sealed the fourth set with a kill to force a tiebreaker.

While the final set came down to the wire, ’Nova never lost the lead. Carpenter blocked a Pirates’ spike to give the Wildcats the first point. From there, ’Nova took an 8-4 lead. In this run, Pettit, Carpenter and Andersen connected on some kills, and sophomore setter Allie DiBernardo launched an ace to cap the run.

Seton Hall proceeded to tie the final set at 12-12. Freshman outside hitter Colleen Hickey and Pethokoukis came up clutch with a go-ahead block. Carpenter ended the match with back-to-back kills to give the Wildcats a 15-13 fifth set victory, and clinching the match, 3-2.

In the fifth set, Edwards left the game after landing on her right knee. As of deadline, there was no status update on the severity of the injury. She did not return to the match.

Pettit had a double-double with 39 assists and 12 digs. Carpenter was the lead attacker, with 14 kills. Close behind her were Andersen and Edwards, ending with 12 and eight, respectively. Henley and DiBernardo flew around the court and kept the ball from touching the ground, with a combined 42 digs.

’Nova heads to Washington, D.C., to face Big East rival Georgetown this upcoming Saturday. The ’Cats can be seen again at home on Tuesday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m. against Lehigh University in the Jake Nevin Fieldhouse.

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