The Dominion Post  

WVU sweeps Orange to advance to NIVC semis

Created on:   Tue, Dec 5, 2017   12:07 AM

Last modified:   Tue, Dec 5, 2017   12:13 AM

The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN — The final moment was one of triumph Dec. 4 for the WVU volleyball team.

The Mountaineers lined up side-by-side and gave a special thank you to the Coliseum crowd of 544 that witnessed their 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-18) victory against Syracuse in the quarterfinals of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC).

Then it was a mad dash to the school’s pep band for hugs and high-fives.

Even the WVU dance team got some love.

“I’ve never high-fived a dance team before,” WVU outside hitter Payton Caffrey said.

Seconds after Syracuse outside hitter Ella Saada’s kill attempt sailed wide left and out of bounds, the Mountaineers solidified their spot in the semifinals.

WVU (21-12) will travel to Oxford, Miss., to face Ole Miss (20-14), at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 for the right to advance to the NIVC championship.

In actuality, it had been decided about two sets earlier.

In what was purely a moment of putting the team on her shoulders, Caffrey made sure the Mountaineers’ first postseason appearance since 1991 season did not end on this day.

“I don’t mind being that person that does it, but it is a team effort,” said Caffrey, who finished with 19 kills, five digs and three service aces. “Without the pass, our hitters couldn’t get the kill. I don’t mind having that pressure on my shoulders, but I think we’re all strong enough to be that person.”

The situation seemed dire.

Syracuse (22-14) led, 21-16, and needed four more points to secure a 1-0 lead.

“That first set, we had tons of opportunities that we didn’t capitalize on,” WVU head coach Reed Sunahara said. “That’s why we were in that deficit. We weren’t taking care of the ball. We weren’t making plays.”

And then Caffrey went off. One swing of her mighty right arm recorded a kill, followed quickly by another from teammate Briana Lynch.

Then it was Caffrey with a second kill and then a third.

Syracuse called timeout. It did not stop the sophomore from Chuluota, Fla.

“She’s been our go-to person all year,” Sunahara said of Caffrey. “If she doesn’t go off, we don’t win that first set and then the whole complexion of the match changes.”

Caffrey was far from finished. Her only block of the match thwarted an opportunity by Syracuse to regain the momentum with a kill, to cut the Orange’s lead, 22-21.

Jalissa Trotter sent a kill out of bounds to tie the match at 22.

Then Lynch and teammate Natania Levak combined for another block and Caffrey’s eighth kill of the set gave WVU a 24-22 advantage.

WVU, which has not dropped a set in the NIVC, secured the set when Syracuse’s middle blocker Santita Ebangwese went long on a kill attempt.

“We’ve been in those situations before,” Caffrey said. “We know how to dig ourselves a hole. We do it all the time. We don’t choose to, but it happens.”

The rest was small pieces coming together to turn into a giant moment for the Mountaineers.

WVU’s 21 wins are the most since the 1991 team won 26.

Erin Slinde provided 24 assists. Lindsay Proctor and Gianna Gotterba combined for 25 digs.

In the end, it was a team effort that began with one hell of an individual feat.

“I think we would have cleaned up what we needed to over the next three sets” if WVU lost the first set, Caffrey said. “I think it still would have ended our way.

“We’re excited. It’s great to be moving on to the semifinals. It’s going to give us a chance to play someone we haven’t played and go somewhere we haven’t been. It will be exciting. We’re pumped to be this far in our postseason.”