Anteaters Stumble in Big West Opening Play

After finishing non-conference play with the program’s first victory over a ranked opponent in six years, it’s back to the drawing board for the UCI women’s volleyball team; a night after falling to CSUN in three straight sets, the ‘Eaters suffered a 1-3 loss against black-and-blue rivals No. 25 Long Beach State in the Walter Pyramid last Saturday, beginning conference play with a 0-2 record.

Having endured a grueling nine-game road trip beset by player injuries and growing pains to kick off the season, the ‘Eaters (6-8) demonstrated a new level of mental fortitude with a 3-1 upset over No. 21 University of San Diego at the Bren Events Center last weekend. However, after back-to-back losses against the Matadors and the 49ers, it is evident the Anteaters cannot afford to rest on their laurels.

“I think we’ve digressed a little bit, unfortunately; I thought we ended preseason on a high note and then did everything we thought we should be doing in practice this week, and coming into the match, we’re just trying to figure out where we are mentally,” said head coach Ashlie Hain. “We’re trying to build on what we did last weekend; that didn’t happen, so we [have to] take a look back on everything that we did this week and make sure we’re working to build, and not settling and not getting too comfortable with the early success.”

With Northridge carrying a 1-11 record into the conference opener and Long Beach needing a full five sets to defeat the University of San Diego, overconfidence may have factored into UCI’s losses this weekend.

“We definitely let our confidence get the best of us,” said fifth-year middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld. “We kind of thought that teams would roll over, like some teams we played in preseason had, and just if we pushed they would pull away. Instead of that, we were ready to fight back, teams would push us, and we were the ones pulling away.”

The Anteaters were outclassed at the net throughout the night, recording a mere two block assists to the 49er’s 16. This discrepancy also paved the way for the 49ers to go on several runs, seemingly at will, to carve out huge leads during the match.

“Defensively, we have to get better. Blocking went somewhere else this weekend,” said Hain. “We definitely need to work on defense this week and eliminate runs. They went on eight or nine point runs on us, and to be a good team, you just can’t let that happen.”

In the first set, UCI held a 13-12 lead, before Long Beach quickly rallied off eight unanswered points in a run that saw four kills and two block assists to take a comfortable 20-13 lead. A solo block by Long Beach senior middle blocker Hayley Benson secured match point for the 49ers before an ace by freshman outside hitter Megan Kruidhof closed the set 25-18.

The Anteaters trailed 8-13 in the second set before three consecutive kills by freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha gave the team a foothold back into the set. Kekauoha, who was limited to a -.200 hitting percentage (on one kill, two errors, and five assists), erupted in the second to finish with .308 on six kills, one error and eight attempts to help UCI edge the set 25-23.

UCI kept close with LBSU up until 18-20 in the third, of which the 49ers then won four straight points to hold six match points before taking the set 25-21.

In similar fashion to the first set, the 49ers once again held a 20-13 lead, this time after stringing together an 11-1 run after trailing 12-9. Another block by the 49ers set up match-point for the home team which would be clinched off a kill by Hudson.

“We have a lot of work, and we’ve come a long way, it’s just this is how Big West Conference play always is. Every night it’s going to be a battle, everyone has a chance on any given night, and I think we just need to keep that in mind,” said fifth-year outside hitter Maria Bubica, who recorded a team high 15 kills in her return to action after being sidelined for a month. “We’re a good team, we just need to learn how to win consistently. [We’ve shown] we have what it takes in the USD match and all of preseason. I think we’ve proved it. Conference is just a little bit of a different ballgame.”

The Anteaters will have four days to reflect upon the weekend before returning home to take on Cal State Fullerton this Wednesday at 7 pm at Crawford Hall.