The Dominion Post  

WVU strolls past UMES in volleyball tourney opener, 3-0

Created on:   Wed, Nov 29, 2017   12:06 AM

Last modified:   Wed, Nov 29, 2017   12:05 AM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — One powerful swing from Payton Caffrey’s right arm ended an important step for the WVU volleyball team Nov. 28.

Caffrey’s second ace of the match sealed the Mountaineers’ 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-14) victory against Maryland Eastern Shore, before 403 fans, at the Coliseum.

It brought about a victory in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC), a postseason tournament that wasn’t even around last season.

Fitting, because until Caffrey and some of her classmates walked onto campus, the Mountaineers weren’t really much of a volleyball program, either.

“Payton Caffrey, Erin Slinde, Natania Levak — that core made the difference,” WVU head coach Reed Sunahara said. “They’re making a big difference for us.”

All three sophomores played their own part in helping WVU (19-12) earn its first postseason victory since 1991.

Caffrey had 17 kills and 17 digs, while Levak added 12 kills and Slinde helped set everyone up with 23 assists.

“I’m kind of a player who can go to a place that has struggled in the past and know that I could play a part to help,” Caffrey said.

The outside hitter from Chuluota, Fla., has done exactly that after earning first-team honors in the Big 12 for a second straight year.

At one point, Caffrey started working with a team that had gone winless in the Big 12 the season before she enrolled.

Two years later, the Mountaineers have expectations of making it to the NCAA tourney.

“First goal was a postseason. Now, we’re setting a new goal for next year to make the NCAA tournament,” Sunahara said. “After that, who knows?”

The words “baby steps” were used enough to know that Sunahara has kept himself drenched in reality as the Mountaineers have progressed in his three years at the helm.

But, he’s also surrounded himself with some talented players who are willing to work and improve.

“Hopefully one day win the national championship,” he said.

“We have to take baby steps. We’re not going to win the national championship tomorrow, but we’re going in the right direction.”

Caffrey knows she may not be on those WVU teams that contend for NCAA titles.

Sadly, that is the unfortunate part of getting in on the ground floor of building a program.

“The class I’m in now, I think we’ll be able to leave behind a legacy that sets the standards,” she said.

And that’s what this first-round victory in the NIVC was about.

No, it wasn’t the NCAA tournament, but the Mountaineers dismantled the Hawks (27-9) like a team that knows it is facing postseason expectations.

WVU did not play like a team that hasn’t played in a postseason tournament since 1991.

“It’s a great stepping stone,” said Sunahara, who came to WVU after one season at Buffalo. “They can experience this and now they know the standard. What we talked about was how we weren’t just going to play into Thanksgiving. We want to play on into December. Our players are hungry for that, and they have the right mind-set.”

The Mountaineers advance to host Temple (20-9), at 6 p.m. Nov. 29, in the round of 16.

Temple head coach Bakeer Ganes was once a WVU assistant coach under former head coaches Veronica Hammersmith and Jill Kramer.

It may be another step for the Mountaineers to help them progress from Big 12 underdogs into a program that understands what postseason success feels like.

“If you were to ask [the WVU players who remained when Sunahara took over, in 2015], they would have stayed again and trusted the process,” Sunahara said.

“They trusted that, which was even better. But, that’s what we told our kids, that it was a process. We’re making the strides that we want.”