November 7, 2013
SYRACUSE (Newhouse Sports Media Center) — Stadium seating is pulled taut when the Syracuse University women’s volleyball team hosts a match in the Carrier Dome. It’s not hard to get a good seat. Game attendance for the season has thus far averaged 299. Against ACC foe Notre Dame on Wednesday night, the count was 215. Not many people […]
SYRACUSE (Newhouse Sports Media Center) — Stadium seating is pulled taut when the Syracuse University women’s volleyball team hosts a match in the Carrier Dome. It’s not hard to get a good seat. Game attendance for the season has thus far averaged 299. Against ACC foe Notre Dame on Wednesday night, the count was 215.
Not many people have witnessed the team’s growth as it transitions into a new conference A win in straight sets over Notre Dame is a testament to that growth, albeit against a team that is making the same transition from the Big East to the ACC.
When the Orange played the Fighting Irish, then a Big East foe in 2011, 585 people showed up. That remains the attendance record for women’s volleyball at SU.
The most raucous fans were the members of the Sour Sitrus Society, the energetic musical pep squad blasting out an assortment of fight songs and Top 40 hits.
Members of the men’s soccer team cheered on players by name. A few locals peppered the mostly empty seats, offering golf claps for digs while student fans hollered and hooted for kills. Loudest of all was the wind outside, pounding the Teflon-coated roof of the Carrier Dome.
This was the third time the Orange women swept an ACC opponent, and the sixth sweep overall this season. The Orange opened the 2013 season being swept by Louisville and Penn State in August.
Much blame for the slow start of the season can be directly applied to the team’s mental state, and the players’ tendency to lose focus as points carry on and emotions run high. As they struggled to establish an identity, the fundamentals of the game suffered—especially the serve receive and blocking. And despite vastly improved defensive awareness and blocking in the first set, those problems were still evident against the Irish.
The strong victory in the first set was followed by a lapse in mental awareness during the second, which saw the Orange have to clamber out of a 15-22 hole in a come-from-behind 25-23 victory. The Orange went on a 9-point streak before Notre Dame was able to answer.
“We bounced back,” head coach Leonid Yelin said. “It was all about our focus. Getting our focus back. It is a game of momentum, taking a little mental break. That’s what changed.”
Like any team in transition, women’s volleyball has struggled. The players have allowed too many mental errors, and have let emotions get in the way of smart play and instinct. The win over Notre Dame was similar to a 3-0 win over Maryland Oct 3. in College Park, which saw the Orange come from behind to claim a set.
“We’ve experienced that a lot,” said junior outside hitter Nicolette Serratore, who had 12 kills and a .346 attack percentage against the Fighting Irish. “Well—we’re staying confident out there.”
“They’ve started learning how to adjust, how to refuse to lose,” Yelin said. “They are more consistent. They are doing what we asked them to do, and preparing better. They are learning how to stay longer in the game.”
In 25 matches so far, Syracuse now sits at 12-13 overall and above .500 in conference play at 7-6. The Orange is enjoying a two-win streak after splitting its matches last week with a loss to nationally-ranked No. 18 Duke and a win in four sets over Wake Forest.
The volleyball team mirrors the football team in a way, bouncing back and forth between solid wins and serious losses, hanging in overall record purgatory while striving to maintain an even record in conference play. Injuries to players have caused some strife—Valeriya Shaipova, a redshirt freshman outside hitter who saw plenty of playing time early in the season, fell in practice and tore her ACL. And an inability to understand and adapt to their opponents mid-game has given the volleyball team more losses than their skill set should allow.
“When you play, you have to take every game for what it is,” said Melina Violas, the junior libero (defensive specialist). Coming off of an 18-dig performance against Duke, Violas maintained her momentum, staying sharp on defense.
“Early on we had struggles. But It feels good knowing that having high expectations for the rest of the season,” Violas said. “We’ve come together and found ourselves as a team—our defense, our blocking, our serving, serve-receive.” She smiled. “It took us awhile, but better late than never.”
The match against Notre Dame carried deeper implications. There’s a long mostly one-sided rivalry between the two teams, which first met in 1981. The Orange won that match. A 1990 rematch saw Notre Dame emerge victorious. The Fighting Irish then won 16 times against the Orange until Syracuse defeated Notre Dame in five sets in 2011. Notre Dame swept the Orange in South Bend last year.
This year’s SU sweep was the final match for the team’s four-game “Home to the Dome” series. Most home games are played in the Women’s Building.
“To win our last appearance in the Dome for the season is great,” Serratore said. “[Playing against Notre Dame]—the first couple of times the mindset affected us. But we were moved that they gave us this opportunity to play in the Dome. This feels like our second home. It’s great to be part of history.”
“I’ve been a Syracuse fan my entire life,” added Violas, who is from Sherman Oaks, California. “Every time I’m here it’s great—I remember coming to the games with my grandpa (who lived in Central New York) when I was a little kid—it’s just so memorable.”
Not many people are sharing the memories this team is making in the Dome.
Perhaps a pep talk from Yelin could sway the community (including the student body) to turn out in better numbers for the volleyball matches. His talks seem to work on the players, given the momentum swing in the second set, when the Orange went from 15-22 to win the set 25-23. But when asked exactly what he said to take back the set, Yelin shrugged, raised an eyebrow, and smiled.
“Do you really want to know?”
Next the Orange women travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass. to face Boston College Sunday, Nov. 10, renewing a longtime rivalry on hiatus since 2005. The team will attempt to go 8-6 in conference play and reach .500 overall.