A night after capturing possession of first place in the highly competitive Big West Conference by defeating 16th-ranked UC Santa Barbara in five grueling sets, the UC Irvine Women’s Volleyball team, on fumes, came up short against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, losing in four sets 29-31, 22-30, 32-30 and 29-31 on Oct. 18 at Crawford Hall.
The loss dropped UCI back into a tie for first place with UC Santa Barbara, who won their match on Saturday night against Long Beach State.
‘The intensity wasn’t there,’ said Head Coach Charlie Brande. ‘We didn’t play with merely the desire or the fight that we played with in the past.’
The lack of intensity was evident early on, as the Anteaters (16-5, Big West 7-2) went down 21-27 in the first set after taking a commanding 16-10 lead early on. The team mounted a comeback and had the opportunity to serve out the set at 29-28, but failed to capitalize on this opportunity.
After dropping the second set, and down 21-24 in the third set, Irvine willed its way back into the game after a spike and a service ace from outside hitter Kelly Wing and consecutive spikes from freshman middle blocker Trisha White, eventually capturing the set 32-30 after a tip by opposite junior middle blocker Dana Kurzbard.
Unfortunately, UCI could not get into rhythm and found themselves fighting from behind in each set.
When UCI did threaten Cal Poly (11-9, 3-6) and took the lead late in the set, the Anteaters committed unforced errors and were unable to win critical rallies.
On a positive note, Wing led all players with 25 kills and added 17 digs while junior setter Ashley Hain contributed with 63 assists.
Underestimating Cal Poly’s talent and suffering from fatigue contributed to the loss.
‘We were tired, and we didn’t prepare for today as we should have,’ said junior middle blocker Sami Cash.
Cal Poly slowed the tempo of the game by halting play to wipe the floor in hopes of disrupting UCI’s typical uptempo style of play.
‘Coupled with our lack on intensity, it really hurt us,’ Brande said.
The Anteaters were more upset with their own performances than with the skills and tactics of the other team.
‘I played like crap,’ Wing said. ‘As a team, there were some let-ups and we were inconsistent.’
While this game was a disappointment, it does not reflect the success of the team and its players this season thus far. Wing has played sensationally, garnering three Big West Player of the Week awards so far this season, being only one of 11 student-athletes to do so since 1985.
Brande noted, ‘Kelly has been a major player for us all year long.’
White has stepped up for injured sophomore middle blocker Terbrie Taylor and has filled the role admirably, performing especially well the night before when she helped UCI put away UCSB in the critical fifth set.
With nine conference matches under their belts, UCI will play each of their conference opponents one more time, hoping to capture their first Big West Conference title in 16 years of competition in the conference.
Despite the loss, the Anteaters are in the middle of one of their best seasons in history and have already defeated three top-25 teams this season.
Just two years ago, the team finished with a record of 4-23, but with many of the players older and more experienced, the Anteaters have now developed into a contender.
‘We have a great coaching staff and we have a team of players that want to win and are determined to do what it takes to win,’ Cash said.
The Anteaters look to get back on track when they head out on the road to play 24th-ranked conference rival Pacific on Oct. 23.