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Senior libero Mariah Henley was named the Villanova Classic MVP. (Meghan Albrittain/The Villanovan)

by Sean Campbell

It was an exciting weekend of volleyball at Jake Nevin Field House as families, students and players gathered to enjoy the annual Villanova Classic. 

The round robin tournament between Sacred Heart, Norfolk State, Penn and host Villanova was particularly important because the event coincided with Parents’ Weekend.  

“We always look forward to our tournament at home and this year especially as it falls on Parents’ Weekend,” Coach Josh Steinbach explained, in anticipation of the matches. 

The Wildcats (5-5) faced their first challenge of the weekend against the competitive Sacred Heart Pioneers at 7 p.m. last Friday night. 

The first set foreshadowed an intense match to come as neither team could distance itself from the other. 

After an effective time-out with the score tied at 20-20, the Wildcats scored four straight points and rallied to win the first set 25-22.

The second set began with an acrobatic diving dig from starting libero and senior captain Mariah Henley, but the remainder of the set proved less inspiring. 

After giving up an early lead, the Wildcats clawed their way back to make it 18-18, but could not hold onto the momentum. 

Sacred Heart won seven of the next 11 points and took the second set by a score of 25-22. 

Villanova did not let the second set loss affect them and demonstrated their resiliency by controlling the next two sets. 

By jumping out to an early lead, the wildcats were able to fend off a late surge by the pioneers to capture a 25-17 third set victory. 

Villanova carried that momentum into the fourth set, where they showed their true dominance. 

After losing the first two points, the Wildcats went on a 15-3 run to make it 15-5. They ultimately won the set 25-14 and the match three sets to one. 

“I thought we battled even though we didn’t play well in the first two sets,” Steinbach told Villanova.com after the match. 

Despite the early struggles, several players had incredible performances. Henley had a match-high 30 digs and sophomore outside hitter Lauren Carpenter had a team high 14 kills.

Villanova’s dominance carried over to its Saturday morning performance as the team swept a struggling Norfolk State team in straight sets.  

The Wildcats won the first set by the largest margin of the day, 25-11. Though the second set was closer with the score tied at 13, ’Nova broke free late to win the set 25-20. 

Villanova got off to an early lead in the third and final set and went on to win 25-16. 

“It was a nice offensive performance for us today,” Steinbach said. “[Sophomore setter]Emma [Pettit] spread the ball around well and our outsides scored well.” 

Claire Crutchfield was a major beneficiary of Pettit’s sets as she led the match with 12 kills on 15 hits. 

The win helped Nova improve to 7-5 on the year and provided valuable momentum for the Saturday night showdown with Penn.

The 7 p.m. match featured the tournament’s two unbeaten teams as Villanova faced a challenging Penn team. 

The Wildcats held strong against the Quaker’s potent offense as they rallied from a first set loss to win 4-1. 

Though Nova had an 18-15 lead in the first set, Penn battled back to take the first set 25-21. 

Just like the Sacred Heart match, however, Villanova recovered well from the loss and increased their intensity in the next set. 

The Wildcats held a tight lead for most of the set and eventually seized the second set 25-22.

The third set proved just as pressure-filled as the first two as a packed Villanova fan section witnessed eight lead changes. 

With the match tied at 17, Villanova won eight of the next 11 points to win the third set 25-20. 

The final set was even closer as Villanova eked out a 25-23 victory to take both the final match and the tournament. 

“I thought we got better as the weekend went on,” Steinbach told Villanova.com in regards to his team’s progress. “One of the things we talk about all the time with our team is getting better through matches, getting better through tournaments and getting better throughout the season.”

The Wildcats received recognition for their impressive weekend as Carpenter and  Pettit were named to the Villanova Classic All-Tournament Team. Additionally, Henley was named tournament MVP. 

Villanova improved to 8-5 on the year after the successful weekend. The team has now won four straight matches and will try to keep the winning streak rolling as they host their first Big East match against Georgetown next Saturday night. 

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