Holding a 2-0 lead, UC Irvine women’s volleyball team came within one point of upsetting University of Hawai’i before falling to the Rainbow Wahine, 25-21, 25-22, 24-26, 18-25 and 15-7 at the Bren Events Center last Friday night.
It was a clash of the offensive and defensive leaders in the Big West, with UC Irvine leading the conference in hitting percentage, kills and digs while Hawai’i led in blocks and service aces. Spanning nearly three hours, the match saw both teams demonstrating dogged defense throughout the night, tallying up 104 digs apiece to combine for 208 digs. Allison Lee and Cassidy Pickrell led the Anteater’s offensive effort, scoring 16 kills each, while Arden Davis led the Anteater’s defense with a career high of 31 digs.
Hawai’i’s struggles on serve led to its undoing in the first set, committing five service errors while UC Irvine remained errorless from the service line. Both teams took turns trading the lead early on until a kill by middle blocker, Olivia Magill pushed the visiting ‘Bows to a 15-10 lead. Ella Rosenfield played a crucial role in closing the deficit, chipping in a solo block and two consecutive kills to tie the score at 16-16. A solo stuff by outside hitter, Tai Manu-Olevao, gave Hawai’i a 20-18 lead, but yet another service error quickly deflated any momentum the ‘Bows had begun building up. Shelley Anderson aced Hawai’i between two kills by Lee to give Irvine a 22-20 lead and elicited a timeout by the ‘Bows. After Irvine led 24-21 following a put away by Arielle Manz, Manu-Olevao’s attack sailed out wide to conclude the first set.
UC Irvine was off to a promising start in the second, as they jumped ahead to a quick 3-0 lead after an ace by Hannah Nabbout. However, Hawaii would come storming back, posting three consecutive blocks en route to a 7-1 run to lead 7-4. Another untimely service error put an end to the ‘Bows hot streak, giving the Anteaters the chance to retaliate. It would be UC Irvine’s turn to go on a 6-1 run of their own, taking advantage of three Hawai’i attack errors to lead 11-8 and force a timeout from the ‘Bows. A pair of strategic tip-ins by Manz and more service woes for the ‘Bows gave Irvine a 14-10 lead, their biggest of the second set. Continuing the back and forth affair of the second set, Hawai’i once more mounted another run to come within one of tying at 17-18, but would be unable to resume the lead for the rest of the set. Outside hitter, Kalei Greeley, had an opportunity to tie the score for Hawaii at a critical juncture when they trailed 22-23, but a double denial by Ella Rosenfield and Lee would keep the visitors at bay. Pickrell would close out the set to put the Anteaters up 2-0 against the heavily favored Rainbow Wahine.
Both teams traded points with one another in the third until an errant shot by Kalei Greeley gave Irvine a slight edge at 10-8. Hawai’i would catch up courtesy of a put away by Kalei Adolpho, but followed by gifting the Anteaters with another service fault. A uncharacteristic set of errors by the ‘Bows paved the way for UCI to take a commanding 19-15 lead off a pair of kills by Dennis and Lee. Refusing to be put away, the ‘Bows double-downed on their defense, finding two key blocks and an unforced error by Pickrell to come back at 21-21 and leading to an Anteater timeout. At 23 all, UC Irvine would manage to clinch match point following an exciting multiple rally with multiple attempts by Dennis before finally managing to put it away. With their backs against the wall, Hawai’i held firm, scoring two consecutive kills and running away with the set after an illegal back-row attack by Pickrell to stay alive in the match.
Hawai’i, which had committed 11 total service errors thus far, did not falter once at serve in the fourth. Additionally, head coach, Dave Shoji, made a decision to switch libero Sarah Mendoza with defensive setter Savanah Kahakai, which seemed to yield dividends. UC Irvine had outworked Hawai’i 71-59 in digs the past three matches, but the ‘Bows wound up leading UCI in digs 35-28 by the end of the set. At 8-8 in the fourth, Hawaii’s offense caught fire, scoring five straight kills to lead 13-8. Irvine could not overtake the ‘Bows, eventually finding themselves at the losing end of a 19-15 score. Hawaii would not give the Anteaters a chance to catch up, holding them to a .175 hitting percentage and closing the set out at 25-18 with a Manu-Olevao kill. From the outset of the fifth the Anteaters seemed to be in dire straits, giving up three in a row to the ‘Bows and forcing a time-out from Coach Paula Weishoff. A service ace by Lee brought the Anteaters within one at 5-6, but Hawai’i scored the next six to take tIrvine would collect two more points off one final service error by the ‘Bows and a kill by Pickrell before falling 7-15 off a kill by Nikki Taylor.
Allison Lee, who had a team-high 18 points, posted her 12th double-double of the season with 16 kills and 17 digs.
“I think they made adjustments and we didn’t. When they make adjustments, then obviously we have to change something, but they were able to make changes before we did. They got on a run, and it was hard to stop them.” said Lee.
Women’s volleyball will look to rebound next week when they travel to San Luis Obispo to take on the Cal Poly Mustangs.