Completing their first nine games of the season on the road, the UCI women’s volleyball team will return home this weekend to co-host the Mizuno Invitational alongside Long Beach State. After splitting their final two matches at the Diet Coke Classic in Minnesota last weekend, the Anteaters are now 4-5, tied for fourth in the Big West with UC Santa Barbara.
Bolstering a new coaching staff and several fresh recruits, the Anteaters began the season on a high note with a four-set victory over LSU, a team that had reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, at the American Campus Classic in late August.
However, the Anteater’s faced an unexpected set back when the team’s starting senior outside hitter, Marisa Bubica, suffered an injury while playing against the third-ranked Texas Longhorns the following day. With Bubica, an All-Big West First-Team selection last season sidelined, first-year head coach Ashley Hain has been working to find a new competitive line up to fill the void.
“Finding a rhythm with the new lineup is our goal right now,” said Hain. “I think we’re making progress doing that each and every match.”
According to Hain, several Anteaters have since stepped up in Bubica’s absence, most notably junior opposite Sydney Wright. Having spent the majority of the past two seasons sidelined due to illness and injury, Wright was pivotal in the Anteater’s victories against Idaho State and UCF, posting 13 and nine kills respectively.
“She’s never played outside hitter before,” said Hain, “[But] she’s getting better every match, and that really helps us.”
Another key component in the Anteater’s success has been senior middle-blocker Ella Rosenfeld, who currently boasts the second highest hitting percentage in the Big West at .387. In the season thus far, Rosenfeld has already set career highs of 15 kills and 10 blocks.
“University of Idaho, Central Florida, [they’re] all teams I don’t know if we could’ve [beaten] in the past, and it just goes to show how hard we’ve been working,” said Rosenfeld. “Yes, we have a lot of new faces, but everyone’s on the same page, we have really clear goals, and we’re all working towards the same thing, from the coaching staff to all the players.”
While this year’s preseason “is by far the most challenging” that Rosenfeld has experienced as an Anteater, it also led to some of the most competitive and rewarding matches of her career as well.
“We might be a young team, but we do have some veterans on the team who have been here for a long time and haven’t seen outcomes that we’ve wanted to see in past years,” said Rosenfeld. “We came into this season wanting to win and wanting to do better and put it all out on the court.”
During the Mizuno Invitational this weekend, the Anteaters will once again look to pull out all the stops as they host a slew of formidable opponents.
The women’s volleyball team begin play against No. 14 UCLA at 10 am Friday morning at Crawford Hall. The Bruins are currently 6-1 on the year and are riding a six-game win streak. UCLA is undefeated against UCI in program history, holding a 6-0 record.
Following their match against the Bruins, the Anteaters will have the afternoon to recuperate before taking to the court to face off against Oregon State. Coming off back to back losses against No. 9 BYU last weekend, the Beavers will look to improve upon their 2-6 record. Against Oregon State, UCI 1-2 all time, with the Beavers winning 3-1 during their last encounter in 2012.
UCI will close out the tournament with a noon match-up against No. 21 USD on Saturday. The University of San Diego is 6-3 for the season after defeating UC Santa Barbara in straight sets last weekend. While UCI leads the series record 22-17 against USD, the Toreros have won the last 16 meetings. The last time the Anteaters won came in 1992.
As they prepare for the tournament, the Anteaters aren’t as concerned about winning or losing as much as they are about improving each and every point.
“Our expectations isn’t based on the result, it’s based on meeting a few different team goals that we have for ourselves and our side,” said Hain. “I think that if we do that, positive results will come, but I think if we just focus on a win or a loss, I don’t think that’s productive for us.”
Some of the goals the Anteaters have set for themselves during their preseason matches have been having their outside hitters hitting above .200 and setting to the middle blockers a certain number of times each set.
“If we break down the match and focus on certain aspects of the game, then we’re getting better each match by winning or losing,” said Rosenfeld. “That’s really the point of preseason, to get better, to get these big wins to set us up for the conference.”