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Delaney McSweeney leaped up to spike the ball for Wake Forest. But she was quickly met by the arms and hands of Izzy Plummer and Naomi Franco for Syracuse’s front row. The two of them overpowered McSweeney and sent the ball to Wake Forest’s floor to tie the game at 23-23 in the third set.
Wake Forest would end up narrowly squeaking out the third set, but that was all the success it would have on the night. Syracuse (13-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) notched a 3-1 victory on Friday against Wake Forest (9-5, 0-3 Atlantic Coast) with a strong front row performance.
In its ACC home opener, Syracuse started out going back and forth with Wake Forest. Both teams took time to settle in and had five total errors by the time the score was 8-8. Syracuse jumped out to a 10-8 lead after Viktoriia Lokhmanchuk and Polina Shemanova swarmed the net to get a block when Wake Forest outside hitter Peyton Suess had a weak spike attempt. The block assist would be the first of 16 throughout the game.
Syracuse further extended its lead to 15-12 after Shemanova, who finished the game with a team-high 19 kills, earned two aces in a row with her powerful backspin shot. The first time, she served it so hard it knocked Wake Forest libero Kalani Whillock to the ground.
Wake Forest bounced back with two kills of its own, but the Orange front row helped the team go on a 4-0 run to separate themselves from the Demon Deacons. Marina Markova started it off with a kill that traveled across the Wake Forest side from left to right untouched. Markova then blocked a poor spike from Andrea Fuentes on Wake Forest, and although Fuentes got it back, it forced an attack error on her part. Setter Elena Karakasi followed it up with a service ace and to cap off the run, she set up Abby Casiano for a strong spike on the next set to put the team up 20-15.
After her kill, Casiano yelled out with emotion and displayed her energy as she has done all season, and high-fived the front row before heading to the bench after Wake Forest called a timeout. Syracuse would miss a couple of point opportunities out of the timeout but ended up winning 25-19.
In the second set, Syracuse found its groove early. Plummer subbed when the Orange were up 7-4 after seeing little action in the first set. Plummer and Karakasi missed an opportunity for a block right in her first look of the game.
However, Plummer, who smiled and danced to the band throughout the game, found her footing soon after and got an assisted block with Karakasi to put the team up 13-10. To cap off a 4-0 run from the team, Plummer ended it with a kill, which was one of five for her. Syracuse kept a tight lead throughout the second set, but a block from the front row of Karakasi and Plummer helped put the set away to give Syracuse a 2-0 lead.
“Blocking’s a team effort,” Plummer said. “It was definitely a team effort.”
While the front row totaled 19 blocks, there was still agreement the team could improve heading into Sunday’s matchup versus Virginia Tech. Plummer and Casiano headed the front row throughout the set with multiple assisted blocks and kills for each of them, but the third set showed some of Syracuse’s current flaws.
McSweeney was able to find the gap between the Syracuse front row to get kills multiple times. Since the front row struggled during this set, it put more pressure on the defense to make tougher saves. Multiple times defensive specialist Lauren Hogan dove for the ball only to fall just short.
“There are always ways for improvement,” Shemanova said. “Even if you play well, you have to play better.”
Syracuse had a chance to end the set at 24-24, but dropped two straight rallies to force the game into a fourth set. Even though the team could have won it a set earlier, head coach Leonid Yelin said the number of sets it takes to win doesn’t matter to him, as long as the team wins.
Plummer continued to step up for Syracuse by earning a kill immediately. Players who were relatively quiet all game, like Lokhmanchuk and Franco, also added to the front row’s success on the day. Franco joined in with Plummer on assisted blocks and added three kills of her own, while Lokhmanchuk added six. Syracuse never trailed in the fourth set and won 25-18.
In total, the front row players finished with 22 kills and 19 total blocks on the day to propel the team to a win. Karakasi was also crucial in setting up successful front-row attacks as she finished with 38 assists on the night.
“Our blocking did leave a lot of holes leaving the defense to take the brunt of it,” Plummer said. “There’s always room for improvement.”
The post Front row propels Syracuse to a 4-set victory over Wake Forest appeared first on The Daily Orange.