Orange Win Big in Lone Home Match in Five-Game Span
By Justin Paura
CitrusTV Volleyball Reporter
SYRACUSE, N.Y.—The Orange are in the midst of their most difficult stretch of their season. Last weekend, they visited Notre Dame and #22 Louisville, then they came home for one home match against Boston College before hitting the road again for a date with Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Friday. Head Coach Leonid Yelin has consistently voiced his displeasure with traveling to and from Syracuse Hancock International Airport as they never have direct flights to where the Orange need to play and that this weekend will be the worst yet.
“I am really worried about this schedule,” Yelin said. “After this, we are much better, but for Friday, I am really worried.”
Yelin’s nerves only continued to grow as his star player, freshman Polina Shemanova, had to spend the majority of the Halloween night match on the sidelines nursing a leg injury. Despite her absence, Syracuse (14-7, 10-3 ACC) muscled out the 3-1 victory over the Eagles (13-12, 3-10 ACC).
Sophomore Ella Saada, the starting outside hitter opposite Shemanova, could have dressed as Polina for Halloween and nobody would have known. She posted the best performance of her collegiate career with 20 kills and a team-high 12 digs.
“I still played my game, tried to do my best,” Saada said. “Polina is a good player, she can’t play now, but we all had to step up and do our job.”
Filling in for the injured freshman was junior Kendra Lukacs. Listed as an outside hitter, Lukacs has played nearly every position on the court except for left side throughout this season. Yelin called her name to play her true position when he needed her most and she delivered with eight kills and 10 digs.
“It was just fun for me honestly,” Lukacs said. “It has been fun being able to play a bunch of different positions, but left side is the position I have always been. I was just excited to be able to play.”
Back on October 14, Yelin said that his team “only has one outside hitter” referring to Shemanova after Saada and sophomore Yuliia Yastrub both finished the match against FSU with negative hitting percentages. This time around, coach was much more pleased with the effort of that position.
“One thing I can say, we should be very happy with the situation like this,” Yelin said. “We lost [Polina], we don’t know for how long…. For Ella, it was definitely her best match of the season, she definitely stepped up. And Kendra came and she really did better than I expected, especially not playing this position the whole season. We got to be happy.”
Outside of the huge advantage in the hitting department (33%-15%), SU also controlled the defensive battle at the net. The number two blocking team in the country stuffed 15 different Eagles’ hits, led by the aggressiveness of seniors Amber Witherspoon and Santita Ebangwese.
“As a middle, you basically have two jobs: to hit and block,” Witherspoon said. “These girls have to play defense and serve and they have so much other stuff to worry about. When you have just two jobs to do, you have to perfect your craft and focus on your two jobs.”
The Orange take to the sky Thursday morning before their Friday night match with Virginia Tech. After that, Syracuse has the rest of the weekend off and do not play again until the following Sunday when they go to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech.
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