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ODU Volleyball Opens Season With a Victory Over Hampton, but Then Falls to West Virginia in nightcap

Keith Lucas

By Harry Minium

The home team won its opener in the Old Dominion Invitational, defeating Hampton Friday afternoon in four sets in the first meeting between the two Hampton Roads schools. 

But Friday evening, West Virginia took just 90 minutes to dispatch the Monarchs, easily winning the first three sets at the ODU Volleyball Center before a crowd of 563, the largest crowd to see Old Dominion play a home match.

Attendance was limited last season, ODU's first playing volleyball, because of the pandemic. The ODU Volleyball Center seats 822 fans and for the first time, more than half the seats were full.

Not only was it the largest crowd to see ODU play at home, it was also the loudest.

Although disappointed with the loss to West Virginia, head coach Fred Chao was exuberant over the fan support, especially on a summer night before Labor Day, when so many families are on vacation.

"The fans were loud," Chao said. "We're going to develop a really good home court advantage. With that many people pulling for you, you can't help but play well. You can't help at least put in the effort to play well."

Chao said effort wasn't the issue against West Virginia, which won 25-19, 25-14 and 25-12.

"We were just outmatched," he said.

The 25-18, 25-17, 20-25, 25-19 victory over Hampton was an auspicious debut for Kira Smith, a 5-foot-10 true freshman from San Diego. She started for a team that returned 13 letterwinners from last season and led the Monarchs with 13 kills and 12 digs. 

Myah Conway, a 6-1 freshman from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, also had an impressive debut with six blocks and had eight kills against West Virginia.  

"We knew Myah had gifts and were excited about getting her in here and getting her developed, and she shows up two inches taller and stronger," Chao said. "She can manage the workload of two-a-day practices and lifting and can hit the ball at a high level.

"We knew with Kira we were getting a skilled, all-around volleyball player. She may not be the biggest player, but what she does she does really, really well. She can pass well, she can defend well, she hits the ball hard and she sees the block well.

"All of that is what this team needs."

Teresa Atilano, an academic sophomore with freshman eligibility, had 27 assists against Hampton and 21 against West Virginia. She was Smith's teammate at Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego.

ODU played the Mountaineers last season in Norfolk and won a set, but the Mountaineers appear to be better this season. 

Although ODU returns everyone from last season, 14 of the 16 Monarchs are freshmen or sophomores. West Virginia returned three fifth-year seniors, who took advantage of the NCAA's decision to grant all athletes an additional year of eligibility because of the pandemic. West Virginia, the only Power 5 school on ODU's schedule, was fourth in the Big 12 last season.

The Mountaineers (2-0) were more accurate in their serves, hit the ball harder and were taller up front. They had nine service aces to one for ODU.

"We're still trying to develop more power, bigger arms and high operating heights to be able to compete against the bigger teams," Chao said.

West Virginia is one of the best teams on ODU's schedule. Chao said the matchup was good to show his players early-on the kind of competition they will face later on against teams like Western Kentucky, the defending Conference USA champion.

"This is only our second season of volleyball," Chao said. "We're still on course. We still know where the work needs to happen."

ODU concludes tournament play Saturday against Loyola (Md.) at 4 p.m. Loyola lost to West Virginia, 3-0, Friday morning and then defeated Hampton, 3-0, Friday afternoon.

Minium was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in his 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot and won 27 state and national writing awards. He covers ODU athletics for Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email