Coming off four consecutive losses to conference opponents, the UC Irvine Women’s Volleyball team regained their form and defeated Idaho, winning in four sets 30-28, 30-21, 30-32 and 32-30 on Nov. 1 at Crawford Court in a Big West Conference match-up.
Before losing four straight, the Anteaters (17-8, Big West 8-5) were on top in the Big West Conference and enjoyed success against perennial conference powerhouses, including wins over Long Beach State and UCSB.
‘One of the things that is new to this group is the success that we have had, and coping with that afterwards was part of our demise,’ said Head Coach Charlie Brande.
‘[The team] wasn’t able to play relaxed and play aggressively and we were somewhat uptight with our success. We let that all go tonight and played great and with enthusiasm.’
A team effort was needed to dispose of Idaho (13-10, Big West 4-8). Falling behind early, the Anteaters caught up to the Vandals in the first set after sophomore setter and defensive specialist Keegan Featherstone, coming off the bench, served when Irvine rallied for five-straight points and again for four consecutive points.
The latter set up set point and junior middle blocker Sami Cash, who spiked the volleyball into the middle of the court to secure the set.
Featherstone said that while serving, her mentality in the game had to remain positive.
‘You have to think positive and go back there to score a point and not just go back there to serve the ball,’ Featherstone said.
Brande added, ‘The key to our success is the contribution of everybody and everybody has a role. Keegan’s role is to serve and dig. That is exactly what she did at a critical time in the first set.’
In addition to successful serves, critical spikes, blocks and tips from the front line that includes not only Cash but also junior opposite Dana Kurzbard and sophomore outside hitter Terbrie Taylor, the victory was a team effort, which all three contributed to.
The front line stopped Idaho from gaining any momentum in the second set, and allowed the Anteaters to take control early and cruise to an easy set victory.
They were especially effective against stopping Idaho’s senior middle blocker Anna-Marie Hammond from scoring at will and leading her team back into the game.
Junior outside hitter Kelly Wing believed her team ‘really stepped up.’
Kurzbard noted, ‘We practiced all week on getting in front of certain people, especially [Hammond], and we all work together to help each other.’
When it came down to securing the win, the team turned to its superstar, Wing.
Down 9-13 in the fourth set, Wing answered with four spikes and the Anteaters eventually caught up to Idaho at 17-17.
‘Kelly is awesome. She realized that there was a dire need for us to win in the fourth set, so she stepped it up,’ Kurzbard said.
Irvine then captured the set and the match after Idaho freshman outside hitter Saxony Brown served the ball into the net.
‘Last time we played Idaho, we won the first two sets and they came back to beat us, so we were not going to let it happen again tonight,’ Wing said.
Wing led the team with 20 kills while Kurzbard and Cash contributed 15 and 14 each, respectively. Senior libero Brenda Waterman added a team-high 25 digs after becoming UCI’s all-time dig leader last week, surpassing Popi Edwards’ (1992-95) mark of 1,045 digs in a match against Pacific on Oct. 23. Waterman’s record now stretches to 1,096.
The talent on this volleyball team is not concentrated. Waterman leads the conference in total digs this season (422), while Wing leads the Big West in service aces (42) and kills (535) and junior setter Ashlie Hain leads in assists (1,323).
The Anteaters still have to work on their play in the third set of matches.
Despite an easy second set victory, Irvine did not come out with the same style of play and trailed the entire third set. At 25-29, the team did manage to fight off four set points and tied the Vandals at 29-29, but eventually lost 30-32.
‘We have done this all year long. We don’t seem as aggressive in the third set. That is something we need to get better at,’ Brande said.
Currently in fourth place in the Big West, the Anteaters still have time to erase from memory these last two weeks and end the season strong.
For now, the Anteaters don’t want to look too far into the future.
‘We’re going take it one game at a time,’ Wing said. Irvine’s next game is against Long Beach State on Nov. 8 at Crawford Hall.