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Exclusive: Tigers playing like they?ve been there before

Exclusive: Tigers playing like they?ve been there before

CLEMSON—Staring at a eight-point deficit in the third set of its match with Xavier on Saturday night, the Clemson volleyball team could have played it safe. The Tigers could have simply managed the deficit and worked to salvage some dignity en route to a fourth set with a 2-1 lead still intact. In fact, past Clemson teams might have employed this strategy.This one did not.The Tigers erupted and turned a 17-9 hole into a three-set sweep of the Musketeers to begin the season 3-0 at the Big Orange Bash in Jervey Gymnasium. The victory over an Atlantic 10 power could serve Head Coach Jolene Hoover’s team well when the time comes to select teams to compete in the NCAA Tournament.“I know it’s early, but it all factors in the RPI,” she said. “It all matters in the end. You can say it was early in the season, but it was a very big win.”Hoover, who earned her 400th victory as the coach at Clemson earlier in the day, has watched her program mature over the past few seasons. Once filled with bashful young talent, the Tigers now resemble skilled veterans who are comfortable playing with each other.“Their volleyball IQ is higher,” Hoover said. “They figure things out on their own. They’re sharing information in timeouts too. It is such an experienced group. Coming back the way they did in that third set exemplified that.”“We definitely got better as the weekend continued,” senior Sandra Adeleye said. “Xavier challenged us a little bit, but we really wanted to close out this tournament completely undefeated.”In their first two matches, against Coastal Carolina and South Carolina State, the Tigers dominated the opposition statistically. It was a different kind of struggle with Xavier, however, after the first two sets were much like the previous two contests.Clemson found itself in trouble in the third, but there was still a sense of calm that pervaded the huddle.“We got in a lull in one rotation,” Adeleye said. “It was just about fighting back. We didn’t want to lay down for them. We were at home. We were in our gym. So we wanted to fight back.”They fought back to take the final set with a 16-4 run, a spurt that showcased the team at its finest. From Natalie Patzin’s digging ability to Hannah Brenner’s passing and the net play of Adeleye, Mo Simmons, Alexa Rand, and tournament MVP Kristin Faust, there were plenty of compliments to go around.“I think we were pretty confident at the net,” Adeleye said. “We knew, depending on the play we ran, that we could probably score during certain things. We just wanted to keep pushing.”The level of comfort the Tigers have with one another has come with some painful memories that have strengthened the unit for the long run. Hoover wants her team to now begin to store some positive things as they mature into the unit she desires to see at season’s end.“After the match, I told them to put this one into the memory bank,” she said. “This is something we can pull out when we’re coming back. The more times you find success, the more past history you can draw on.”

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