Even though it is still zero week on the academic calendar, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team has already racked up double-digit wins on the year. Led by new coach Paula Weishoff and an influx of new players, the No. 18 Anteaters have dominated on the court, compiling a 10-2 record.
The season started with a bang when the Anteaters upset then No. 6 Cal 3-2 (19-25, 25-20, 25-19, 19-25, 15-12). Juliane Piggott, a new junior transfer from UCLA, immediately established her authority on the court by leading all players with 20 kills. Junior outside hitter Kari Pestolesi recorded 17 kills and 10 digs, while senior setter Taryn Robertson contributed seven kills and 44 assists. In the crucial fifth set, the two teams traded points until UCI pulled away with a four-point run, highlighted by two kills from Robertson.
This victory and a subsequent five straight wins out the gate led to a Nevada Invitational Tournament title and a national ranking for UCI, which is unchartered ground for the Lady Anteaters.
“Right now our season is going great, and we just have to keep maintaining that,” Head Coach Paula Weishoff said. “[UCI women’s volleyball has] never beaten a top 25 program, and never started off 10-2. We’re just going to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing, and getting better at it.”
UCI’s two losses of the year have been to No. 15 University of Southern California, and to No. 23 University of San Diego. However, both times the team has not been fazed, following the loss to the Trojans with dominating wins over Boise State, the University of Houston and Loyola Marymount University. That string of wins earned them the Crowne Plaza LAX Tournament title, their second tournament win of the year. After the loss to USD, UCI easily dispatched San Jose State, using a 9-4 block advantage to beat the Spartans 25-14, 25-21, 25-17.
The Weishoff era has gotten off to a booming start despite the influx of nine new players. Any worries of an uneasy relationship between players recruited by the old staff and new players brought in by Weishoff have been dispelled. It helps that the styles of play are fairly similar.
“[The main difference] is that we work a little more out of system,” Weishoff said. “There are more swing blocks, and the passing and defense is a little different. We spend more time out of system.”
Playing out of system entails scoring off of digs or passes off the net, and a general style of unpredictability.
Up ahead is the start of Big West conference play. UCI will travel to Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
“Cal Poly had a pretty tough preseason schedule, so I’m not looking at their win/loss record,” Weishoff said. “Then we go to UCSB and they’re a very good team. It’ll be our first test to see where we are. If you win two that’s great, if you come out 50-50, we’re happy, and if you lose both, then that just lets us know what we need to work on for the rest of conference.”
After narrowly missing out on the NCAA tournament last year despite a hot finish, UCI is definitely headed in the right direction this year.
“It’s the first time we’ve been ranked in the top 25 consistently for a few weekends and it adds a little pressure,” Weishoff said. “But it’s the pressure that you want. You want to be able to build off of that and sustain it. Always being the underdog is the easy way. Now there’s a little more pressure to maintain. I look at it like it’s a good thing.”