After suffering a disheartening loss to the No. 14 Bruins earlier in the day, the UCI women’s volleyball team rebounded to defeat Oregon State 3-1, 25-22, 25-21, 19-25, 25-19 at Crawford Court Friday night.
“We dug balls, served tougher, and we were in the serve and pass game,” said first-year head coach Ashley Hain.
The most telling statistic for the evening was the difference in digs- UCI held a 73-52 advantage over OSU. Sophomore libero Luna Tsujimoto spearheaded the defensive effort for the Anteaters, logging a career-high 26 digs. Sophomore libero Chloe Hakim had a personal best of her with 14 digs, and freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha added 13 while logging 18 kills to finish the night with a double-double.
“That makes a huge difference when you keep yourself in the game by playing defensively, being relentless and not letting balls drop,” said Hain. “It gives you another chance to score.”
A transfer from Ohio State, Tsujimoto has been a critical component of the the Anteater’s defense, recording double-digit digs in all but three matches thus far in the season. Tsujimoto is currently 3.76 digs per set, ranking her fourth best in the Big West Conference.
“I’m really proud of my team for being able to beat a Pac-12 team,” said Tsujimoto. “If we keep doing what we’re supposed to do, I really think we can top three (in conference) at least.”
Senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld, who posted 11 kills and three block assists, echoed Tsujimoto’s joy with the team’s victory.
“Any chance to beat a Pac-12 team, no matter what their rank is, is huge for us, huge for our program,” said Rosenfeld. “We literally trained in this gym for so many hours since the beginning of August, and to be able to play in it, that’s our time to shine.”
Despite UCI hitting for a blistering .567 in the first to OSU’s .314, the set remained close throughout, with neither team leading by more than three. Kekauoha would fire back-to-back kills to secure the set for the Anteaters 25-22.
In the second set, the Anteaters was less productively offensively, as they only hit for .116. However, after recording 10 total digs in the first set, the Anteater defense erupted with 25 in the second alone to limit the Beavers to a .021 clip. UCI never trailed, and took the set 25-21.
After trading points early in the third set, OSU managed to break ahead with a four point lead at 10-6. The Anteaters came within two points of closing the gap at 15-17, but the Beavers never relinquished the lead and forced a fourth set at 25-19.
“I think in that third game we kind of let our fatigue get the best of us, which we can’t do because everyone else is tired,” said Rosenfeld. “We train too hard to let that happen.”
Much like their match against UCLA, the Anteaters once again challenge of executing when it mattered, only this time it would be after securing a 2-0 set lead.
This time around, however, the Anteaters emerged successful, logging 23 digs in the fourth and hitting at a .278 clinch the match 25-19 and finish the day 1-1 against the Pac-12.
“It’s a different mentality, and it something else we need to grow and get better at,” said Hain on the victory. “How do you close out against a good team that’s not going to back down?”
UCI will host No. 18 USD in the Bren Events Center to wrap up preseason play at noon tomorrow. In the program records, UCI leads 22-17 all-time against USD, but the Toreros have won the last 16 meetings.
“This preseason has been hectic, and I’m thankful for it because we’ve learned a lot about ourselves. You don’t get that playing other teams, you play the best, and you can grow from it. I really feel like we have in a lot of areas, and why not close it out with the number 18 team in the country.”
While the Anteaters are a relatively young team with six freshmen, Rosenfeld doesn’t believe the team’s relative inexperience will be a hindrance when conference play begins.
“I want to say it’s hard having freshman on the team, but it really hasn’t been because they’re so willing to step up and play their hearts out, and that’s something that is very rare and I haven’t before,” said Rosenfeld. “With the heart that they have, we can play with any team.”