FILE PHOTO: ERICK CASTRO/THE HOYA Sophomore middle-blocker Symone Speech has played in 52 sets this season and recorded 159 kills.
Sophomore middle-blocker Symone Speech has played in 52 sets this season and recorded 159 kills.

The Georgetown women’s volleyball team (4-10, 0-1 Big East) opened Big East play this past Tuesday, taking on St. John’s (10-4, 1-0 Big East) in McDonough Arena and losing 3-1. The Hoyas fought hard throughout, but could not sustain their stretches of high-level volleyball to overcome the Red Storm.

Sophomore middle blocker Symone Speech and sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Sinnette continued to lead the Georgetown offense, registering 22 kills and 12 kills, respectively. Sophomore setter Paige McKnight also continued to do it all for the Hoyas, registering 42 assists, five kills, five digs, three blocks and two aces.

In the first set against St. John’s, Georgetown started strong, and took an early lead at 7-2, but the Hoyas could not hold the lead. In a set with five lead changes and each team making runs, it was the Red Storm’s final 5-1 run that downed the Hoyas in the first set 25-21.

The second set saw St. John’s carry over its momentum and open up a five-point lead, which Georgetown cut down to three at 18-15 behind junior setter Meghan Richard’s four kills out of six for the match, doubling her career high. The Red Storm ultimately prevailed, taking the second set 25-21.

Head Coach Arlisa Williams said she was pleased with Richard, who emerged as a new outside scoring threat against St. John’s. Williams also said the outside hitters played well all night, and that she sees a potent force sprouting between Sinnette, Speech and Richard.

“We have been offensive all year, and our outsides did a great job tonight,” Williams said. “They got better as the match went on. We were able to get Symone the ball in the middle, but I think the big difference maker for us tonight was Meghan Richard on the right side. She had zero errors on nine swings and hit .400 was great. So we will build on that progress.”

After dropping the first two sets and staring down a potential sweep, the Hoyas adjusted well in the locker room and tightened up their defense.

The third set saw the Hoyas play their most energy-driven and sharp volleyball, leading the set the entire way, at one point 21-14. Sinnette accounted for seven kills and took over the Hoyas’ offense, helping them power through to a 25-20 win, forcing a fourth set.

Sophomore libero Kenzie Higareda led the way defensively throughout the match, recording a match-high 22 digs.

“Our serve receive was lacking a little bit but our outside hitters and our front really stepped it up for us, which really helped us pick up one area when another area was lacking,” Higareda said. “Then, if defense was lacking our blocking was doing better, and we just made sure we picked each other up in different areas and tried to come together as a team.”

The Hoyas battled throughout the fourth set, absorbing runs and playing spurts of great volleyball. But with the score tied up at 18, St. John’s utilized a 3-0 run to take control of the set, and it weathered a Georgetown comeback bid to win the set 25-22 and take the match 3-1.

Georgetown has another short week to prepare for their next match, at Villanova (10-4, 1-0 Big East) this Saturday.

The Wildcats are coming off a sweep of the Seton Hall Pirates (6-8, 0-1 Big East) in their Big East opener, and have won six of their last seven matches on the season. They are led by senior middle blocker Michaela Berendt, who leads the Big East in hitting percentage and ranks 11th in the nation connecting at a rate of .423 in 23 sets this season.

Williams looked to the positives in the match against St. John’s, noting that Georgetown is capable of competing with anyone in the Big East, and will challenge the team to play at a high level against a streaking Villanova squad.

“You saw us play great volleyball and then St. John’s would go on a run, and then we’d play great volleyball and they’d go on a run,” Williams said. So, figuring out how to sustain that level of play at a high level, which we are very capable of doing is, the first goal. Then we need to make sure we are hitting our serving zones and taking care of our side of the net when push comes to shove.”

Georgetown makes the short trip to Philadelphia to take on Villanova, with first serve set for 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24.

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