Despite outhitting UCLA .337 to .317, UCI’s women’s volleyball team fell to the 14th ranked Bruins in straight sets, 23-25, 17-25, 21-25, in the first match of the Mizuno Invitational in their home-opener at Crawford Court Friday morning.
“It came down to a few crucial plays, unfortunately, I think it was our side,” said first-year head coach Ashley Hain. “I think we beat [ourselves], we got tight, served out, didn’t pass the ball, just simple things on our side. That’s the good news, I mean we were in the first and third set despite our injuries, despite our youth, we were there and in a position to win, and just didn’t make plays to close out the match.”
Freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha had a stand-out performance for the Anteaters, hitting for .571 on 16 kills out of 28 attempts with no errors. Senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld was errorless as well, swinging for .429 on six kills and 14 attempts.
“I think we definitely achieved when we got off the pass, I think as we equally distributed the sets, everybody got their kills,” said Kekauoha. “In time we were able to incorporate the middles,which I think we did really good against UCLA, it’s just those little points that slipped by.”
The Bruins had a quick start in the first set, opening with four unanswered points, before a kill by Kekauoha put the Anteaters up on the scoreboard. UCI managed to rally back from their early deficit, and soon took the lead off of a UCLA attack error at 10-9. The score remained close with neither team leading by more than two until the Bruins scored five straight points to lead 22-19. UCI nearly closed the lead at 23-24 off a kill by senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld, but UCLA clinched the set 25-23. While the Anteaters had a higher hitting percentage (.333-.243), they were harmed by four service faults while the Bruins remained errorless.
The second set began much like the first, with the Bruins again opening with four straight points before a kill by Kekauoha ended the drought. However, the similarities ended there as UCLA took control of the set by establishing a comfortable 15-6 lead. The Anteaters never threatened, and the Bruins closed out the set 25-17 off another kill by Anderson. UCI’s hitting percentage dipped to .259 in the second, while UCLA swung for a match-high .469 to take a two-set lead.
“I think we’re just fragile as a team, we were trying to come off really aggressive [in the first], but then realized we came off by missing [four] errors in our serves,” said Kekauoha. “So we decided to calm down [in the second], which ended up backfiring.
After a reserved second set, the Anteaters came back with the same level of aggression they displayed in the first, hitting for .400 in the third. In spite of recording their highest hitting performance of the match, the Anteaters were once again hampered by another four service errors.
Both teams kept close with one another in the beginning of the third before a pair of kills by sophomore outside hitter Reily Buechler put the Bruins up 10-6. UCI responded with three straight points to come within 9-10, but UCLA was able to stay ahead and extend their lead to 19-12. A timely series of Bruin service and attack errors helped keep the Anteater’s alive, and a kill by Kekauoha trimmed the lead down to two at 20-22. However, the Anteaters would only score one more point of a Bruin service error before falling 25-22 to end the match.
Coming into the match, the Anteaters main focus wasn’t about winning or losing but rather accomplishing certain team objectives, such as successively distributing sets to different players and hitting for above .200. While the team was successful in meetings those goals, one objective the team struggled to fulfill was displaying a consistent serve-and-pass game.
“Unfortunately, we played with the bad habit of serving really easy and passively,” said Hain. “Our freshman started getting shaky at the serve and receive, and that’s the difference. Our serve and pass was not good, we did not meet that goal.”
While the team is still relatively young with six freshman, Hain does not believe inexperience is an excuse.
“Eventually our freshman have to get mentally tougher because we know physically, their capable,” said Hain. “It’s just doing it in these big matches at crucial times, it’s not an excuse anymore. We need to be able to step up to the challenge of executing in those big time situations.”
The team will have another chance to grow and execute under pressure when they take on Oregon State at 7:00 pm in Crawford Court. UCI holds a 1-2 all-time record against Oregon, with the Beavers winning their last encounter 3-1 in 2012.
After demonstrating they can score 20 points against one of the top teams in the nation, the focus for the Anteaters heading into tonight’s match will be closing out the game.
“We talked in practice about getting to 20 and making plays to win those matches, and we just haven’t learned that part of the lesson. We’ve gotten halfway there I think. If you side-out, then you can stay with any team in the country,” said Hain. “They’re not quite there yet, but it’s nice to see the progress of hanging with the best teams in the country until 20, but now we have to find a way to make plays at the end.”