FILE PHOTO: MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA Junior libero Emily Gisolfi has replaced senior co-captain MacKenzie Simpson over the past two games. Gisolfi has 153 digs on the season.
FILE PHOTO: MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA
Junior libero Emily Gisolfi has replaced senior co-captain MacKenzie Simpson over the past two games. Gisolfi has 153 digs on the season.

The Georgetown volleyball team (9-16, 3-9 Big East) will continue its stretch of five consecutive road games when its travels to play at Butler University (17-8, 9-4 Big East) on Friday and Xavier University (15-10, 8-5 Big East) on Saturday.

The Hoyas will look to rebound from consecutive away defeats against Big East frontrunners Creighton University (18-7, 11-1 Big East) and Marquette University (20-6, 10-3 Big East). Although each loss was in straight sets, both the Bluejays and Golden Eagles were hard-pressed to close out the persistent, dogged Georgetown team. Each match featured multiple sets that were close from start to finish, as Head Coach Arlisa Williams’s squad was able to play at a level that was nearly on par with two of the best teams in the conference. Williams expressed the belief that her team would be able to build upon its encouraging recent performances.

“Butler and Xavier are both talented teams, but I think that the way that we played against Marquette and Creighton has definitely instilled some more confidence in our players. They know that we are really close, and we just need to make sure that we capitalize on the opportunities that we’re given, and finish out games,” Williams said.

The Hoyas have been playing without senior libero and co-captain MacKenzie Simpson, who sustained an arm injury in the loss to Marquette, so the team’s rotation is still somewhat in flux. As a result, the Hoyas have been focusing on attaining a higher level of cohesion and fluidity as players adjust to new positions.

One of those players is junior defensive specialist Emily Gisolfi, who has been Simpson’s replacement for the past two games. Gisolfi recorded 15 digs, including 12 in the first set, in her first full game donning the special libero jersey, and her performance has been a bright spot for the Hoyas in recent games.
“We work really hard at practice, and my teammates have helped me step up. I don’t need to replace MacKenzie, but I need to fill a hole that we have. So, it’s been hard, but I’m open to the challenge,” Gisolfi said.

Butler features three top-notch blockers in senior outside hitter Belle Obert, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kayla Bivins and senior middle blocker Erica Stahl. All three are in the top eight in the Big East in blocks per set, and they represent an intimidating collective force up front for the Bulldogs. Williams has worked hard to prepare her team for this critical aspect of Butler’s game.

“We’re focusing on our shot selection, and making sure that we can take swings that will terminate balls. We’re also working on our defensive coverage so that if they do block us, we’ll be able to pick that up and transition back into the point,” Williams said.

Xavier is led by sophomore outside hitter Abbey Bessler, who ranks seventh in the Big East with 3.53 kills per set, and freshman libero Jesse Earl, who is third in the conference in digs per set and fourth in service aces per set. The Musketeers have won six of their last eight conference matches, and will represent a significant challenge for Georgetown. However, the Hoyas are more concerned with improving on their side of the net than with the status of their opponents.
“Our overall focus is getting ourselves together as a unit,” Gisolfi said.

After this weekend, Georgetown will have played four of the top five teams in the Big East standings consecutively, likely representing the most challenging stretch of the season for the team. Still, the team is excited about its performance, and there is belief that there is potential for further improvement. Butler and Xavier will represent difficult tests for the Hoyas, but their main goal as they move forward is to continue to work hard and give it their all.

“It’s really about taking it one day at a time as we move forward. We want to go out every single day at practice and at match time and leave it all out on the floor so that we can walk away with no regrets,” Williams said.

The match at Butler will begin in Indianapolis on Friday at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s match at Xavier in Cincinnati will begin at 4 p.m.

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