After seeing their three-match win streak end in a tough loss to Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team (20-9, 10-4) suited up to play on Crawford Court for the last time this season. Standing in its way were the Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara (10-17, 5-9).
In the first game of the match, UCSB took a quick 6-1 lead. At 11-5, the Anteaters were forced to take a timeout to make adjustments. After the timeout, four kills by senior Kristen Kelley initiated a comeback that put the Anteaters within one point, at 13-12, this time forcing the Gauchos to call a timeout. Back in play, UCSB pulled away again at 17-23, eventually winning the first game 30-25 with a Lauren McLaughlin kill right down the middle.
‘Santa Barbara is well-coached and they came out early against us and dominated. They determined the pace of the game,’ said Coach Charlie Brande.
Focusing on dictating the game at their own pace, the UCI women played better volleyball the rest of the way. Early in the second game, Chelsea Ellis demonstrated her power up front as she recorded two blocks in a row to give UCI a 4-2 lead. She had a team-high 7 of the Anteaters’ 9 blocks in the match. The Anteaters extended a 20-17 lead to a 24-17 lead with freshman wonder Kari Pestolesi serving. They would take game two 30-24.
The most interesting game of the match came right after halftime. After struggling early in the game, the UCI women rallied to 8-9 thanks to Pestolesi’s serves that the Gauchos had trouble returning throughout the night. UCI took the lead from Santa Barbara 16-12 but quickly lost it as the Gauchos took four straight points to tie the game. The score went back and forth until UCSB was able to pull slightly away from UCI at 27-24. After Brande took two timeouts to talk to his team, the women went on a run to tie the game at 28 apiece. The Anteaters eventually took the nail biter with a spike by Chelsea Ellis that put the score at 31-29.
‘The third game could’ve gone either way. Our girls made some huge plays at crucial times. We made plays to make it happen. Which was great,’ Brande said.
A Santa Barbara player added to the excitement of the third game by throwing a ball in the direction of the UCI men’s baseball team. Our beloved team then started a small but amusing scene that helped get the crowd hyped.
After taking the close third game, the Anteaters made quick work of UCSB in the fourth game. UCI started the game strong and didn’t look back. Pestolesi again gave Santa Barbara a hard time with her dominance. A spike by junior Shannan Homan sealed the deal, putting the Gauchos away 30-22.
Both starters and players off the bench attributed the success to the stellar play. ‘Caroline Kim and Larissa Nordyke did a great job coming off the bench tonight,’ Brande said about his two players. Sophomore Ellis also contributed, finishing the game with 11 kills and a .500 hitting percentage.
Displaying both the team’s veteran experience and bright future were Kelley and Pestolesi. Pestolesi finished with a commanding 19 kills and digs. Kelley finished the game with 16 kills and 5 digs.
After the game was over, the players returned to the court for a meet-and-greet session with their fans.
Brande spoke warmly about his two seniors, ‘It was their night tonight and they both played maybe their best match of the year. It was a great way for them to finish their careers here at Crawford Court.’
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