The NCAA women’s volleyball tournament field was announced on Sunday, Nov. 29, and UC Irvine was once again one of the last teams not to receive an at-large bid.
After completing conference play by losing to Long Beach State and conceding the conference title, UCI had one last chance to bolster their tournament at-large bid chances in a game against Texas Christian University. Unfortunately, a strong TCU team led by Kourtney Edwards went up on the Anteaters 2-0, and UCI could not complete the comeback, falling to the Horned Frogs 3-1 (25-21, 25-20, 23-25, 25-23) in Long Beach.
However, boasting an impressive array of accomplishments on the season including being ranked No. 18 in the nation for eight straight weeks, being the No. 2 seed in the Big West and winning 22 games in the year, UCI still had a fair chance at receiving a bid.
Unfortunately, UC Santa Barbara, a team with similar attributes on the year, was the only Big West team to receive an at-large bid, with the exception of two head-to-head wins against the Anteaters on the season.
“Everyone’s obviously very upset,” junior Kari Pestolesi said. “We had a pretty good season, started off strong, and had a little lapse mid-season, but I thought we overcame that.”
UCI beat No. 9 ranked Cal to open the season – the first time in program history that the Anteaters had beaten a top 10 team. Unfortunately, the tournament awards 31 automatic bids, many times to conferences that are not as strong as the numerous quality teams on the west coast.
“Being here for the third year, it was our third year we should have been in the playoffs,” Pestolesi said. “It’s a terrible feeling. Every year we always say ‘let’s remember this feeling and not let it happen again’ but it has happened again and again, so… you realize how hard it is to make the tournament.”
First-year Head Coach Paula Weishoff seemed to energize the team all season, both in terms of new recruits and in coaching style. The Anteaters rattled off several hot streaks, including a 9-1 start to the season, a 7-2 start to conference play and a 5-1 end to conference play.
“This year we were so anxious to get started under our new coach and just play as hard as we could every match. But then as the year went on we got used to the system, and I think it kind of slowed down for us. I don’t think everyone realized the entire time how important it was to win every match we could win, because every match counts,” Pestolesi said. “It was a fun year … really weird to think that it’s over now. But we’ve gotten a lot better since last year and hopefully we’ll just keep building on that.”
Weishoff was the main reason that outside hitter Juliane Piggott transferred to UCI from UCLA.
“She’s definitely had a very positive impact on this team and we all look up to her a lot and play our hearts out for her,” Piggott said. “[UCI is] a lot more of a positive environment [compared to UCLA], and the girls just have a lot more heart and passion for the game.”
Even Pestolesi, who was recruited under the old regime of now retired Head Coach Charlie Brande, recognized what Weishoff brought to the table as a coach.
“Her coaching style is very up to date,” Pestolesi said. “That’s what’s different from last year. Charlie had been coaching the same way for a long time and Paul knew that the game changed, so she changed her coaching style with it.”
The Lady Anteaters will be losing the services of several seniors who have seen the program improve a long way in their four years here. Co-captain and setter Taryn Robertson’s name will be all over the record books.
“Her being a senior setter and in a leadership role – she kind of ran the show,” Pestolesi said. “It was nice to have that confidence, where she could handle herself in certain situations where a freshman without that college experience probably wouldn’t be able to.”
Senior Alex Filkins was also another fourth year senior at UCI who experienced success on the court.
“Every time she came in, she found a way to put the ball away,” Pestolesi said. “She has one of those funky arm swings, and whatever it was, it worked.”
Senior McCall Miller was another co-captain who has been at UCI all four years, and someone who played both the front and the back.
“She’s very vocal, and it’s easy to play next to her because she talks to you and tells you what ball she has and who should get what,” Pestolesi said.
Finally, defensive and serve specialist Lauren Souto will be remembered for her team-first mentality.
“Souto’s just the sparkplug of the whole program,” Pestolesi said. “She gets the whole team fired up when she gets into the game, everyone’s doing the ‘Souto chop;’ she’s definitely a crowd favorite. You know if you told her to run through a wall to get that ball, she’d do it. She’s 100 percent for the team, and it’s cool to know that.”
The Big West honored the strong play of Pestolesi, Piggott and Robertson with First Team All-Big West honors for all three, the third for Pestolesi and the first for both Piggott and Robertson. Libero Kristin Winkler was also named to the Big West All-Freshman team.
“It’s fun to share it with two of my teammates, and it just shows how well rounded our team is,” Piggott said. “It’s an honor, considering the competitive conference this year.”