The UC Irvine women’s team is hungry and confident. Looking at UCI’s 21-11 record 15-6 in Big West, one could assume the Anteaters had a solid season. However, the Lady Anteaters lost a couple games down the stretch that they felt they should have won, and were denied an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
Lucky for us, this season’s squad has extra motivation and extra experience. The Anteaters return five starters, four of whom were All-Big West honorees last season.
Sophomore Kari Pestolesi, who was the 2007 AVCA West Region Freshman of the Year, will attempt to top her team leading 491 kills and 40 aces from last season in a potent Anteater attack.
Just a tear below, senior Lauren Kellerman will try to build on her 446 kills and 34 aces season. She joined Pestolesi on the Big West first team.
Junior Taryn Robertson and senior Devon Sutherland are the other two All-Big West selections. Robertson is already third in career assists at UCI. She recorded 1,431 assists last season. Sutherland, who is the Libero, is already the all-time digs leader at UCI with 1,302. These girls look to climb up the record books again this season.
The biggest loss for the Anteaters is Kristen Kelly. Her aggressive play and blocking presence in the middle is the biggest hole that Coach Charlie Brande is going to have to fill.
“She was a huge offensive power and very vocal on the court. We are going to miss her,” Sutherland said.
When asked who was going to replace Kelly’s performance and persona on the court, Sutherland and Pestolesi said, “We all have a little anger in us. We want to make the postseason.”
With that having been said, anger will be provided by committee for now as sophomore Larissa Nordyke, senior Shannon Homan and junior Chelsea Ellis rotate in the role.
Coach Brande also acknowledged that Pestolesi, Kellerman and even Robertson will be working to fill in the space left by Kelly.
This added versatility may be both the greatest strength and weakness for the Anteaters. Pestolesi has been playing both the right and left side of the attack, and Robertson will be sent on the attack and block this season in addition to her setting duties. While the Anteaters might be able to mix formations and players to adapt and exploit their opponents, they may also play off-style and lose themselves on the court.
These questions must be answered early in the season as the Anteaters only find themselves on Crawford Court one time in the non-conference schedule against Oregon on Sept. 10.
However, Coach Brande does not perceive the lopsided home to away game ratio to be a significant problem.
“This team has been around it a long time, and it won’t be a disadvantage at all,” Brande said.
Robertson defines this squad as “competitive.” As such, the competition for playing time should bring the best talent onto the court among those gifted non-starters.
The girls are excited about playing tougher opponents this season and taking care of business. They are not looking over any opponents; every game is a big one.
“We just have to take care of the little things. We have confidence in our abilities,” Sutherland said.
Robertson expressed similar sentiments.
“We are excited about playing tougher opponents. We want to show that we belong with the best,” Robertson said.
Here is a schedule of the home games for the women’s volleball team.
Note: All games are at 7:00 pm and are at Crawford Court.