Wildcats go 2-1 in Orlando

Then-junior Jacque Smith looks to pass the ball during the March 14, 2021 volleyball game against Saint Louis University. (Archive photo by Sophie Osborn | Collegian Media Group)

The Wildcats traveled to Orlando this past weekend to take on the Syracuse Orange (2-2), the North Florida Ospreys (1-3), and the Central Florida Knights (2-0) in the UCF Challenge.

In set one against the Orange, the Wildcats came out swinging, quickly going up 4-0 after a kill and two aces from outside hitter Elena Baka. The rest of the match was neck and neck with the Wildcats taking the set 25-23. The set was led in points by Baka with 7.5 and followed by junior outside hitter Aliyah Carter with 6. Setter Loren Hinkle led the Wildcat Offense in assists with 8.

Set two was a little more lopsided for the Wildcats, jumping out to an early 11-4 lead. While the Orange came back towards the middle of the set, it wasn’t quite enough to fend off the trio of Baka, Carter, and junior middle blocker Kadye Fernholz. The trio accounted for 13 of the team’s 18 earned points. Leading the pack was Carter with 5.5, Baka with 4.5 and Fernholz with three. Continuing her help with assists, Hinkle totaled 11 in the set and was the only person to have an assist for the Wildcats.

Set three was a slow one for the Wildcats, trailing early with a score of 7-10. They knotted things up towards the end, but didn’t have the strength to take the set, losing set three 22-25. After a solid set from Hinkle, both offensively and defensively, the Wildcats went into the fourth set with winning on their mind.

The Wildcats came and fought back with intensity in the fourth set, taking an immediate 12-4 lead. The Orange couldn’t scramble fast enough to find a way to defend the Wildcat offense, and the Wildcats took the set 25-21. Carter led the team in points with seven followed by Baka and senior middle blocker Sydney Bolding with 3.5 points each. It was another set boosted by Hinkle, who led both teams in assists with 11 and was once again the only player for the Wildcats to have an assist. With the set four win, the Wildcats took the match and ran with it, winning 3-1.

The second match of the invitational pit the Wildcats against the North Florida Ospreys. In set one, the Wildcats started off sluggish, going down 10-6 early on. While they kept it close until they could find their stride, the Wildcats were down 20-24 before they caught their gust and came back, winning 30-28.

In the second set, the Wildcats once again found themselves down 7-12 early on in the set. While they seem to start slow, the Wildcats know how to finish. They clawed their way back in a neck and neck set and pulled out the win in the end 25-22.

In the third set, the Wildcats never let themselves go down by much, showing complete domination. While they were down a few points early, they pulled everything together, both offensively and defensively, and won 25-15. With that win, the Wildcats won the match 3-0.

Against the Ospreys, Baka led the team in points with 19.5, followed by Carter with 10 and Haley Warner with 7.5. Out of 34 total assists for the Wildcats, Hinkle had 30, followed by junior libero Mackenzie Morris with two.

Match three of the weekend was a thriller against the UCF Knights. In the first set, the Wildcats jumped out and took an early lead and held onto it, with the Knights only scoring a few points at a time. The Wildcats ended up taking the set 25-20 after a strong set from Fernholz and Bolding.

Set two was a different story for the Wildcats. While they fought hard, they trailed early and couldn’t quite find their footing to go on a run. The Knights showed complete control winning the set 25-18.

Both teams showed their potential on offense and defense in set three with neither team leading by more than four points. Down the stretch, the Wildcats began to trail 24-21, before they came back to take the lead 25-24. After a few lead changes and ties, the Wildcats took the win 30-28.

Set four was slow-paced, with neither team able to get ahead of the other, until the end. In the later parts of the set, UCF went on a 4-point run to take the lead up to 18-22. After that, the Wildcats just couldn’t quite find their footing and dropped the set 21-25.

With the match tied 2-2, tensions were running high, and with the target score being moved to 15 for the fifth set, both teams knew they needed to get something going. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the Knights got their offense rolling before the Wildcats were able to. The Wildcats dropped the set 11-15, therefore giving the match win to UCF.

The Wildcats left Florida with a 5-1 record on the season. They beat Missouri later in the week, and head into the Rambler Challenge in Chicago this week to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-2), the Loyola Chicago Ramblers (3-4), and the St. Thomas Tommies (2-4).