Volleyball

Blocking propels Syracuse volleyball to 5-set win over Louisville

Sabrina Koenig | Staff Photographer

Syracuse out-blocked Louisville, 14-5, on Sunday afternoon.

Middle blocker Santita Ebangwese and outside hitter Mackenzie Weaver crouched, preparing their bodies for whatever ball came over the net.

As a hard spike came flying in from Louisville’s Tess Clark, the unit readied to defend the net at all costs after their team came out of a sloppy first set. Louisville was on the brink of getting within striking distance of tying the game at 8 and Syracuse knew it could not let the lead dwindle.

With the Orange up by three, the duo of Ebangwese and Weaver rose together and blocked the ball straight down with authority to put Syracuse up 9-5 in the second set, giving SU a sense of control for the rest of the game.

That block was one of five blocks in the second set and one of 14 in the game. The eventual 14-5 block advantage against the Cardinals (6-10, 1-5) was a positive leap from previous games this season. Led by Ebangwese, Weaver and Leah Levert, SU (4-12, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) beat U of L, 3-2, in five sets on Sunday afternoon at the Women’s Building.

It represented a number in the box score more in line with last year’s Syracuse team that just missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Leonid Yelin was pleased to see his team dominate and improve upon a demanding skill that allows for little to no reaction time and limited ability to see the ball itself.

“You have to be absolutely perfect,” Yelin said of blocking, “if you’re getting in wrong spot you can’t overcome that … this is one skill that goes against human nature.”

Ebangwese had eight blocks alone and said her success stemmed from opponent scouting and team communication that, while lacking at times, got the job done.

“You know who your hitters are and you know their tendencies, where they like to hit, (where their) strong hits are, certain plays from watching film,” Ebangwase said of scouting the Cardinals. “But then, you also read the setter (and if) she’s going to lean forward, is she going to set back, who are her hitters … you kind of just take (all) that into account.”

With knowledge of each other, Ebangwase (eight blocks), Weaver (two blocks) and Levert (six blocks) were on the same page throughout. They finished what they started in the second set and put an exclamation point on a sloppy, but hard-fought game with key blocks.

With Syracuse leading 14-5 in a first-to-15 final set, Syracuse once again knew it must close the set. Against Notre Dame on Friday, the failure to close the second set put an end to coming back.

Weaver, too, knew she must close out the set. The freshman had nine errors on the day including two in the final set.

“Coach looked me in the eye and said, ‘If you miss this block, I’m going to kill you,’” Weaver said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, OK. Well I’m going to take an immediate step to the left.’ He’s like, ‘I want you to step over, I want you to find her number.’”

Weaver returned her attention to the court and as Louisville’s Jasmine Bennett tried to spike the ball near the far sideline a combination of Weaver, Levert and Christina Oyawale jumped up and blocked the ball. The ball rose in the air and with anticipation from both sides fell to the hardwood bouncing off where the medal post and nettings meet midcourt.

Syracuse had won.

“It was a combination (of relief and joy),” Weaver said. “I knew I was going to get that block.”

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