Prior to last Friday, West Virginia volleyball had never beaten an opponent ranked in the top-10. After sweeping No. 10 Kansas in Lawrence last weekend, the Mountaineers have now done it twice.
WVU (3-3 Big 12), battled the Jayhawks (1-5) tooth and nail on Friday and Saturday, with both games going the full five sets. It was the second weekend in a row that WVU had played back-to-back five-set matches, although previously it was the Mountaineers who were swept by the Kansas State Wildcats.
WVU head coach Reed Sunahara said Wednesday that the experience of playing five-game sets and losing to K-State helped them turn around and win in a similar situation against the Jayhawks.
“When you go and play in the fifth set, anything can happen, any team can win,” Sunahara explained. “We fought and we were resilient and we never gave up so I was proud of our girls and our team for doing that…When you go back-to-back and play five sets two nights in a row, that’s tough.”
The sixth-year head coach specifically mentioned that the team did not get down on itself after losing to the Wildcats an important factor in being able to turn around and defeat Kansas according to him.
“We can’t be too high or be too low,” Sunahara said. “I thought after we played Kansas State and we lost two, the energy was still good when we practiced the following week. Normally you lose two five-setters and the morale is way down but they picked it up and I was pretty impressed with the way they carried themselves and how they played over the weekend.”
Sunahara said the wins over Kansas were important for WVU as a program, but he is making sure his team does not dwell on them.
“It’s definitely a big step for us in the right direction, but we can’t just be complacent and just think about the win at Kansas because we’ve got TCU coming up,” Sunahara said. “Those were two big wins for us in the history of West Virginia volleyball but that was last week so now we’re focusing on TCU.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, WVU will play an entirely in-conference schedule this fall. At 3-3, the team is off to its best in-conference start during Sunahara’s tenure.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever been in a situation where, after six [Big 12] matches, we’ve been 3-3,” Sunahara said. “I think that’s a good start for us, but the schedule just gets harder and harder and it never ends in the Big 12. We’ve got to get those wins whenever we can and just keep playing consistently.”
Not only is 3-3 the team’s best record through six Big 12 games, only once in the previous five seasons has WVU won more than three Big 12 matches in the entire season.
|Season||Record Through First 6 Big 12 Matches||Final Conference Record|
The difference with this season’s team, according to Sunahara, is the Mountaineers’ ability to really dig in a play well when they need to the most.
“It just seems like when they really need to fight and get a point, they’re all about it,” Sunahara said. :I’m proud of our team, they practiced well, they get along well and it’s one of the best teams I’ve coached. It’s fun to coach them, it’s fun to go to practice because they want to learn, they want to get better, they want to compete hard and they want to turn this program around. Every day we’re trying to make this program better.”
Several Mountaineers have enjoyed productive seasons thus far. Junior Lacey Zerwas leads the Big 12 with 287 assists and ranks second with 10.63 assists per set, senior Briana Lynch is fourth in the conference in hitting percentage at .417, senior Audrey Adams is tied for the Big 12 lead with 27 blocks, senior Alexa Hastings (77) and freshman Skye Stokes (71) are both top-10 in the Big 12 in digs, and junior Natali Petrova is top-10 in both service aces (nine) and points (100).
WVU will host TCU (1-5) for a two-game series on Thursday and Friday in the WVU Coliseum.