Captains Volleyball closes regular season with CNU Invitational

Volleyball picks up two more wins and a single loss heading into the CAC tournament

Captains Volleyball closed out their regular season with the CNU Invitational, inviting three other universities to the Freeman Center to face off against each other over the course of two days. Among the invited were Virginia Wesleyan, Averett University and inter-state conference rival Salisbury University.

The Captains opened the weekend up with their tenth and final Capital Athletic Conference regular season match as they took on Salisbury University. In the previous meeting three weeks before up in Maryland, #15 Riley Garrison led the offense with eight kills to a swift three set victory. This time around was not much different as early on in the first set, Christopher Newport jumped out to an eight point lead which featured four kills from #20 Katie Piper and an ace by her hand as well. The Captains then continued the onslaught with a seven to two run, pushing their advantage further. After a pair of points for the Seagulls interrupted the Captains attack, they quickly closed out the set with another run scoring seven of the final nine points in the set, with Piper closing the set with another ace.

The second set was much more tightly contested than the first. The spread after 20 points was only two but still in favor of Christopher Newport. Both sides were able to string together four consecutive points and would continue battling it out, but the Captains would slowly pull a spare point here and there before #14 Katie Crofford sealed the set with her third kill of the set and the fourth of the match. 

In the third set, the Captains threw ten more points on the scoreboard with Salisbury only managing three during Christopher Newport’s run. The Seagulls would outscore the home side during the closing sequences of the set, but the damage had already been done with #10 Megan O’Hara registering four kills in the set, half of her total on the night. Throughout the contest, the Captains defense would limit Salisbury to a hitting percentage of just seven percent. The stingy defense of Christopher Newport also held their opponents to just 42 points, the lowest total number that Salisbury has ever put up against the Captains. A little over 15 hours later, Christopher Newport would be back in action against Virginia Wesleyan University, with both sides heading into the match up with identical overall records, 23 wins and only seven losses. 

Early in the first set, the Marlins pulled ahead for an early lead with an eight to one run in which four of the points were Captains unforced errors. Christopher Newport was able to claw back to within one point before Virginia Wesleyan once again took off, stretching the lead to as much as seven at one point. Overall, the first set was heavily dominated by Virginia Wesleyan, as they cruised to 25 points off the back of 12 kills and just three attacking errors. After the first set, the Captains needed to change some things up if they were looking to make a comeback. 

In the second frame, Piper looked to lead by example as she blasted six kills to set the tone for her side. Garrison, the CAC defensive player of the week, also contributed six points to the cause, four coming from sets by #3 Sammy Carroll and Crofford with the remaining two from defensive stops at the net. Captain errors gave Virginia Wesleyan five of their last six points but that wouldn’t be enough as #2 Kayleigh Regan-Smith closed out the set from behind the service line, picking up an ace and then playing strong defense allowing Crofford to pick up the closing kill. 

After an initial jump on their opponents, the Captains would hold the lead for the majority of the third set. Carroll was looking for every opportunity to help her side out as she would pick up 13 helpers during the set. 

Not wanting the front row for Christopher Newport to have all the fun, she caught the Marlins defense off guard a couple of times with a pair of setter dumps to give herself two more kills on the season, but the Virginia Wesleyan side persisted and eventually caught up with the Captains before taking turns with the lead before arriving at set point. Three times the Captains held off their opponents from securing the set before equalizing at 24. Undeterred, the Marlins rallied and picked up the last two points they needed to close out the set and put themselves just 25 points away from taking down the CAC regular season champions. 

The Captains only allowed nine points to be scored against them, the lowest total scored by any side in the Freeman Center this season. Four of the allowed points were Captains errors as well. It started off close with both teams even at three points but then the floodgates opened as Crofford served seven points in a row during a streak of eight unanswered points. Piper picked up another kill before #7 Tiaralyn McBride came in and served an ace before the Marlins scored again. 

Towards the finishing points of the set, #22 Rebecca Frey would rent a room behind the service line as she served five points in a row and slipped two consecutive aces through the defense. 

Then came the fifth and final set. Both teams were in unfamiliar waters as until that point, each side had only played in two matches that had gone the distance this season. After losing the first point, #9 Mackenzie Wright answered back with a kill to begin a three point stint for the Captains. 

Neither side would be able to make much headway as they found themselves tied up at five. A key timeout called by head coach Lindsay Birch allowed her side to settle down and compose themselves before heading back onto the court. The timeout proved to be successful as afterwards, they won the following three points which forced a timeout out of the Marlins. Almost in defiance, the Marlins won the next three points coming out of their timeout as well which was met by another Christopher Newport timeout as Virginia Wesleyan sat just three points away from victory. Piper would snag her seventeenth kill of the contest which tied her with teammate Garrison for the second highest during the match, only to be outdone by #18 Amber Matalus of Virginia Wesleyan. 

That would be the last point from the Captains as a block, attacking error and Matalus’ eighteenth kill would be the undoing of Christopher Newport as they fell in the Freeman Center for the first time since the first match of the season back in August. 

Christopher Newport had one more opportunity to tune up the band before the post season tournament as they faced off against Averett University in the final match up of the CNU Invitational. The Cougars traded points early on before the Captains settled in and found their rhythm, picking up four straight points to recapture the lead. 

Garrison would grab some more points, once again from both sides of the ball as Crofford snagged another ace. The Captains would flirt with an eight point lead thanks to kills from Wright, Piper and Carroll, as well as #6 Abby Oren before the pushed their advantage just a bit further and closed the set with a 10 point spread with another ace from Crofford. 

The second set saw Christopher Newport pull ahead early this time around, creating a five point margin by the time Piper fired off another kill for the Captains’ ninth point. The Captains continued their strong performance as they would go on an eight to one run which featured back to back aces from Frey, all before Averett scored their tenth point. That would come next, but Christopher Newport would be content to trade points as each side picked up three each, with the last one being scored by #21 Maddie Carter. 

In what would be the last set of the weekend, O’Hara surprised the defense with two aces which bookended a Garrison block early on as Christopher Newport would head out to a 13-7 lead. 

Then Carroll came to the line, which she would do for the next 10 points as the Captains sailed to a 16 point lead. Carroll would earn three more aces which gave her eight on the weekend. But the Cougars would show that they wouldn’t go down without a fight as they played well enough and seized six of the next seven points, all six of which came from unforced errors by the Captains.

 It was an error of their own which would spell the end for Averett University as Christopher Newport closed their regular season with a win in the record books. Piper closed the weekend with 38 kills across three separate matches while Carroll handed out 112 assists. Garrison would hit with over a 50 percent kill rate across 52 attacks. Up next for the squad is the Capital Athletic Conference semifinal match in the Freeman Center on Nov. 7 against the winner between Southern Virginia University and York (Pa.).

~Austin Urch, Staff Writer~

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