by Karolina Golabek
The women’s volleyball team’s trip to Nebraska brought everything to the table: a family affair, exciting points, passionate fans and tough competition. The Wildcats (then 1-2) were prepared for a tough match against No. 13 Nebraska (2-1) in Lincoln, Nebraska. However, the pre-match ceremony was just as memorable as the match itself.
The Wildcats faced the Cornhuskers on Friday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. in front of some 8,000 people at the grand opening of the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The volleyball court played on was named that night after legendary Nebraska Head Coach, Terry Pettit. Incidentally, Pettit is the father of sophomore Wildcat setter Emma Pettit.
Villanova Head Coach Josh Steinbach told reporters, “It was a cool thing for Emma and her dad. It was obviously important for their family and it was a good experience for me as a coach to be here and to see another coach honored who has such appreciation for volleyball and its history.”
The packed venue was home to a competitive match that the Wildcats ultimately lost in four sets 25-14, 25-13, 20-25 and 25-20. Despite the defeat, freshmen outside hitter Claire Crutchfield and middle blocker Michaela Berendt impressed and led Villanova with nine kills each. Berendt hit .292 and was the overall leader in block assists with five. Pettit also impressed by dishing out 31 digs and adding six more, as well as three block assists and kills apiece.
The Cornhuskers started off well leading 9-3, which forced a timeout. Soon after two Nebraska errors, its lead was diminished. Nonetheless, the Cornhuskers never allowed Villanova to get within four points of them, and eventually captured the opening set 25-14.
Senior outside Carly Edwards executed an effective kill to gain a 1-0 lead at the beginning of the second set. Nebraska was unaffected and with four kills and a block won five straight points. Nebraska kept its distance throughout the set, and ended with a certain victory 25-13.
The third set started with the Wildcats trailing 5-0 before the distance was decreased to one point at 7-6. Sophomore outside hitter Lauren Carpenter and Pettit completed two kills each, while Berendt and sophomore middle blocker Brittany Rembert scored two block assists. Villanova was able to force a fourth set by winning the third 25-20. Steinbach told reporters that the turnaround was possible thanks to the improvement in serving, which boosted the confidence of the Wildcats.
The fourth set was even until a 20-20 tie, after which the Cornhuskers claimed the last five points of the set, winning the match in four.
“We started off the match a little slowly,” Steinbach told reporters. “It was a different environment than we are used to and it took us a while to find out footing. We competed really hard at the end of the match. I wish we would have started out in the beginning the way we played in the end but overall we really came to play and will be a better team for this match.”
The then 1-3 Wildcats faced Southern Miss in Lincoln at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7. The Golden Eagles (4-2) won in three sets 25-23, 27-25, 25-26.
“It was obviously a frustrating day for us,” Steinbach told reporters. “Southern Miss played really well and they caught us off guard a little bit with the way they hit the ball. We had to fight so hard just to try and get back in the match and we just weren’t able to overcome that deficit.”
Yet again, the offense was led by freshmen Crutchfield and Berendt, who hit .333 and .353 attack percentages respectively. It is notable that senior libero Mariah Henley scored 19 digs during the match. She moved up two spots on the Villanova all-time digs list as a result. She is now in sixth place.
The Wildcats led in the opening set 21-20 and 22-21, but the Golden Eagles won three straight points to gain a 24-22 lead. Despite a kill by Crutchfield to gain Villanova its 23rd point, Southern Miss grasped the win.
In spite of the loss, Villanova started the second set off strong with an eventual 15-8 lead. The Golden Eagles won four consecutive points and decreased the lead to 15-12 before evening the score later on in the set at 19-19. Kills by Golden Eagles Jasmine Crowell and Quinci Hayward and two attack errors by the Wildcats caused Southern Miss to gain a 2-0 set lead.
The Golden Eagles did not allow the Wildcats to come close during the final set, eventually winning it 25-16. The Wildcats (now 1-4) suffered losses earlier against Oregon State and Central Michigan, and a win against Oakland, which marked Steinbach’s 99th victory as head coach.