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Despite beating Syracuse the first time around, the ’Cats were unable to stop a proficient hitting attack from the Orange. (Meghan Albrittain / The Villanovan)

by Gregory Habeeb

The volleyball team concluded its season this weekend with a pair of losses at the hands of two conference rivals to narrowly miss qualifying for the Big East Tournament. The Wildcats (11-19, 5-10 Big East) traveled to Syracuse on Friday night where they were defeated in straight sets by the Orange (12-18, 4-11 Big East). On Sunday afternoon, ’Nova was downed by the Pitt Panthers (17-13, 7-8 Big East) by a score of three sets to one.

In their first meeting of the season, Villanova handled Syracuse in four sets despite dropping the first set. This time around, however, the narrative was much different. The Orange utilized a proficient attack, hitting .320 as a team and finished the match strong by posting a .433 attack percentage in the final set.

Syracuse’s efficiency was able to counter seven aces from Villanova, which tied for the second most aces that the Wildcats posted in a conference match all season. Sophomore defensive specialist Ally Moskitis led the team with three aces, and senior middle blocker CeCe Twitty contributed with a pair of aces of her own.

Freshman outside hitter Lauren Carpenter, who posted seven kills during the match, noted that being on the road as well as the pressure on the Wildcats going into the weekend may have contributed to such a drastic change in results from the first ’Cuse-’Nova match.

“In the first match we played at home, and it’s obviously easier to beat teams here than on the road,” Carpenter said. “We just played better the first match; we were fired up because it was our ‘Big Pink’ game, and I think the second time we were nervous because we knew what was on the line.”

Head Coach Joshua Steinbach echoed Carpenter’s statement.

“It was a must-win for us and we couldn’t get it done. Playing on the road is tough, and we just didn’t execute well enough up there,” Steinbach said.

Despite the loss, ’Nova still had a chance to make the Big East Tournament with a win on Sunday afternoon against the University of Pittsburgh and a Seton Hall loss against Syracuse. Villanova was unable to build on winning the first set, 25-23, as they dropped the next three sets to lose the match.  Syracuse came back from a two set deficit to defeat Seton Hall, making the defeat even more bitter for the Wildcats.

“Friday was a frustrating match, but Sunday was more sad than anything else,” Carpenter said. “In the middle of the match, we looked up and saw Syracuse was coming back, so we regrouped and gave it all we had. It was just sad we came up short.”

Sunday doubled as Villanova’s Senior Day, as seniors Krista Andersen—who finished her career with 1,092 kills—CeCe Twitty  and Kristina Bither were honored for their contributions before the game. Steinbach couldn’t have been more pleased with the achievement of the Class of ’13 players over the course of their careers.

“They’ve been a really hard-working group. They have done whatever we’ve asked of them, and I’m proud to have had them in our program,” Steinbach said. “They are Villanovans in every sense: quality students, involved in community service, active in the University in and out of athletics and they’ve been good players for us too.”

The Wildcats were in good position to make the Big East Tournament until the final third of their season, in which they dropped nine of their final 11 matches.  Steinbach pointed to the mid-season casualties of two of the team’s most effective blockers, junior outside hitter Carly Edwards and freshman middle blocker Gabby Pethokoukis as being key reasons for the late season free-fall. Edwards and Pethokoukis missed a combined 22 matches this season.

“We had injuries and illness,” Steinbach said. “Carly Edwards tore her ACL against Seton Hall and Gabby Pethokoukis had mono for our last nine matches. Losing our two 6-foot-4” players changes a lot of what we do.”

Steinbach went on to clarify that this was not an excuse for the weak conclusion to the season.

“We still had expectations to be better than where we finished,” he said.

While the Wildcats may have struggled this season, nearly their entire roster will be returning. Carpenter believes that this experience help the team to move forward, especially regarding her fellow freshmen.

“A lot of our starters were freshmen, and none of us knew what to expect.” Carpenter said. “Having gone through the season, now everyone knows what each team member can do.”

Steinbach offered up some more optimistic thoughts relating to the 2013 season.

“I think the future is bright. Gabby Pethokoukis, Lauren Carpenter, Michelle Adams and Emma Pettit all were regular starters for us as freshmen,” Steinbach said. “Mariah Henley and Carly Edwards will be our seniors next year, and they are both great players that will bring some leadership qualities to our team that we need. Our sophomores have also been starters or played significant roles, so I like what we have coming back.”

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