On paper it appeared to be an even match-up: the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team, with a 4-12 record, hosting the Pacific Tigers, who boasted a 4-11 record. But that is where the similarities ended.
In a Big West Conference game that seemed very winnable for the Lady Anteaters, the Pacific Tigers defeated UCI in four games, 30-24, 30-25, 28-30 and 30-17 on Saturday to push UCI’s losing streak to four games and leave the Anteaters searching for answers.
In what has become a trend for the team, UCI came out sluggish in the first game and fell behind early. Finding themselves down as much as 16-5 at one point, UCI fought hard to get back in the game, cutting the Pacific lead to 25-20 on a spike off the block by sophomore outside hitter Lauren Kellerman. It was simply not enough, though, as the Tigers finished strong and took the first game 30-24.
‘We have to work on coming out stronger,’ said junior middle blocker Kristen Kelley. ‘We need to have more intensity right from the start and stop putting ourselves into a hole at the outset.’
The second game seemed as though it would be more of the same as Pacific took the early 3-1 lead and appeared to be picking up right where it had left off in the first game. Freshman setter Taryn Robertson and Kelley put a stop to that thinking when they combined on a beautiful block off of a Pacific Tiger attack that sent the crowd into a frenzy that seemed to energize the Anteaters.
With Kelley, senior middle blocker Trisha White and freshman middle blocker Chelsea Ellis working hard to control the net and alter the attacks of the Tigers, UCI stormed back to take a 13-8 lead, forcing Pacific to burn a time out to regroup.
The game went back and forth with both teams making big plays, but, as it has been for much of the season, it was the opposing team that made the most of their opportunities late in the game as Pacific closed on a 6-3 run and took game two to lead 2-0 in the match.
Down two games to none and in need of a momentum shift, UCI welcomed the break between games and used it as a time to make adjustments to their game plan.
‘We were having trouble in a lot of areas and we were just letting them do whatever they wanted,’ Kelly said. ‘We wanted to come out and stop them at their game and make them try something different, throw off their timing and see how they would adjust.’
The adjustments seemed to be just what was needed as UCI came out strong in the third game and showed Pacific that it was in for a fight. Behind the strong attacking play of Kelley, Kellerman and freshman outside hitter McCall Miller, UCI sent a barrage of spikes at the Tiger defense, forcing them to make difficult digs and passes. On defense they seemed to get taller and taller, continuously sending Pacific attacks right back at the offensive player. However, despite the inspired play of the Anteaters, they found themselves tied at 13 a piece.
Enter junior setter Christa Conom and sophomore libero Devon Sutherland. Conom came off the bench and gave a much needed steady hand in the setting game, assisting on various kills by both Kelley and Kellerman that rendered the Tiger defense helpless. Sutherland, who had been having difficulties with her passing in the first two games came up with dig after dig to keep the points alive and give her offense multiple second chances. UCI controlled the game throughout and took it 30-28 to make it 2-1 in favor of the Tigers.
‘Christa played really well for us tonight and gave us some solid play,’ said Charlie Brande, head coach of the women’s volleyball team. ‘Coming out of the gates we seemed a little off and that hurt us early. Pacific hit us with a varied tempo and it was hard to time for our blockers. We made some mistakes that are just a by-product of inexperience and we need to learn from them and get better.’
While the improved play of the third game was a welcome sight, it was short-lived as the Tigers closed the door on UCI’s bid for a comeback, taking the fourth and final game convincingly 30-17. The Anteaters will look to end that streak and tally their first conference win when they take on UC Davis on Saturday, Oct. 14.
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