FILE PHOTO: CHRIS GRIVAS/THE HOYA Sophomore libero MacKenzie Simpson (in blue) recorded a total of 36 digs in two games last weekend.
Sophomore libero MacKenzie Simpson (in blue) recorded a total of 36 digs in two games last weekend.

On Sunday, the Georgetown volleyball team (6-11, 0-4 Big East) silently filed out of McDonough Arena in disbelief after allowing a 24-19 lead to slip away against Rutgers. This weekend, the team hopes to be able to seal the deal against Villanova (7-10, 2-2 Big East).

“Because we were so close but didn’t quite finish, everybody is really fired up about how we can improve,” sophomore libero MacKenzie Simpson said.

The Hoyas, however, carry more than just the memory of their loss to the Scarlet Knights. They are mired in a 10-game losing streak and are winless in four Big East matches. But the Blue and Gray has shown signs of life recently, extending their last three matches into tight, four-set affairs. The challenge now is to take the next step toward a much-needed Georgetown victory.

To do that, the Hoyas have to avoid getting bogged down by memories of past mistakes.

“After every point, we huddle in and focus on the next point and get excited about the little plays we made before,” Simpson said. “We try to take it one point at a time.”

Although the broad goal is to move on, Head Coach Arlisa Williams used this week’s practice to simulate pressure-filled situations with the goal of preventing a collapse like the one that took place against Rutgers.

“We want to serve a bit tougher, and we had the team serving at our staff. If they didn’t ace them, there were consequences,” Williams said. “There has been a lot of running this week.”

One strong point for the Blue and Gray — who currently sit last in the Big East — is the outstanding statistical performances from star players.

Sophomore outside hitter Alex Johnson is ranked third in the conference with 4.0 kills per set, junior setter Haley Lowrance is fourth in the Big East with 11.13 assists per set and sophomore middle blocker Dani White ranks third in blocks with 1.17 per set.

And during the weekend matches, Simpson keyed the defense, recording 20 digs against Seton Hall and 16 over Rutgers.

“[My goal is] to have the effort and the mentality of always wanting to improve,” Simpson said. “In practice, my teammates and the coaches push me constantly.”

According to Williams, Simpson — who replaced the graduated Tory Rezin (COL ’12) at libero this season — has benefited from her extra effort this year.

“MacKenzie always pushes herself,” Williams said. “By taking extra reps in the gym and watching video, she is trying to take the little pieces of the game that she can improve and tighten them up.”

As libero, Simpson must also take on an additional role as a defensive leader along the backline.

“MacKenzie has had to learn over the course of the season how to own the back row,” Williams said. “She’s learned that it’s OK to tell defenders where to go and when to go and to make sure she’s calling shots for hitters and changing passing patterns. In the back row, she sees the court in a different way.”

The Hoyas will have to count on Simpson and the team’s other leaders to step up Saturday if they are to notch their first league win. The Wildcats are coming off wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall and boast 6-foot-5 outside hitter Carly Edwards.

“Whenever we play [Villanova, Edwards] always goes off against us,” Williams said. “She’s very big, so we have to know that she’s going to get some big swings and she’s going to block some balls.”

Although Villanova earned two recent league wins, it has faced its own adversity in the form of a six-game losing streak prior to last weekend.

“I’m never going to use an opponent as inspiration, but it’s good to see that anyone can come out of a [losing] skid,” Williams said. “Our time is coming.”

The Hoyas will face Villanova at 3 p.m. Saturday in McDonough Arena.

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