Things are different at Virginia's Memorial Gym this volleyball season.
"It's a whole different world," junior middle hitter Mallory Woolridge said this week. "In previous years it hasn't really been fun. Volleyball hasn't. But volleyball's fun again."
"We're not undefeated. But we're still having a lot of fun, working hard every day," said libero Emily Rottman, the Cavaliers' lone senior. "And the difference is we're coming in the gym ready to work, because we know we have a lot of wins out there."
Wins have been hard to come by in recent years for the Cavaliers. The program has endured four straight losing seasons, including a nine-win performance in 2012 for first-year coach Dennis Hohenshelt.
Hohenshelt had come to UVa from Penn State, where he was an assistant for the women's volleyball program that won four consecutive NCAA titles from 2007-10. The Nittany Lions only lost 18 matches in his six seasons on staff; the Cavaliers lost 22 last season alone.
Hohenshelt says patience was the primary lesson he learned in his first season as a head coach. But he also says the UVa program may actually be a little ahead of schedule in Year 2.
"The kids have been fantastic in the fact that they've bought into what we're trying to do, and they're 100 percent in right now," Hohenshelt said. "So wins are going to come. I'm convinced of that."
"He comes from a winning past. He comes from Penn State. He knows volleyball; he knows how to win," said Rottman. "He's been positive. He's been very motivational. He knows what to say, when to say it."
Hohenshelt's rebuild of the Virginia program included his first recruiting class, which included six freshmen and a transfer, and was ranked No. 12 in the country by PrepVolleyball.com. Two of those freshmen, Jasmine Burton and Haley Kole, have already earned ACC Freshman of the Week awards.
"I think the biggest difference is the talent he's brought in," said Rottman. "And he knows not only how to bring that talent in, but he knows how to get the best out of the girls that we have."
But Hohenshelt says that influx of talent is just part of the process.
"Winning's not easy. It's a very hard thing," said Hohenshelt. "And a lot of people think you just win, and it's not really how it happens. And so you almost have to teach the kids how to win."
"He's constantly trying to instill that in us," said Woolridge. "And the competitive attitude that he constantly brings, I think is really beginning to rub off."
Hohenshelt's second season began in late August with UVa sweeping home matches against Marshall, Montana, and James Madison to win the Jefferson Cup.
Virginia enters this weekend's Cavalier Classic with a 4-5 overall record, after three losses at the Western Kentucky Invitational last week. The Cavaliers still have that spotless 3-0 record at home, but it will be tested in matches against Seton Hall on Friday, then Columbia and William & Mary on Saturday.
But Hohenshelt already knows his team will take the court with the right mental approach this weekend.
"These kids are thinking about winning every match. And that's the mentality I want them to have," he said. "It's a real fun group to be around, in the fact that that's how they're looking at things right now, and that's how I want them to look at things."
"Dennis has instilled in us going for every ball, and going hard at every point," said Rottman. "We know that what we do in the gym now is really going to pay off in the end."
"Finally it feels like there's hope, and its feels like we're going to win," said Woolridge. "Rather than praying that we're not going to lose, I know we're going to win. And it's just a great feeling."
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