After launching herself high above the net and slamming the ball down into the open court to give the UCI women’s volleyball team a 22-17 lead against Long Beach State in the third set, senior outside hitter Marisa Bubica pumps both fists into the air and lets out an emphatic roar among her teammates.
Bubica’s kill was emblematic of the Anteaters’ potential and perhaps, their entire season as a whole. Despite decisively taking the third set off a run of eight-unanswered points, the Anteaters were unable to sustain that effort throughout the rest of Thursday night, falling to Long Beach State 3-1 for the second time this season.
Throughout the season, the Anteaters have demonstrated an ability to compete with some of the top teams in the nation, upsetting a then No. 21 ranked University of San Diego and going toe to toe with the nation’s top blocking team in No. 6 Hawai’i (19 blocks to 20) in a close 3-1 loss. In the same way the set scores for the evening fluctuated (26-24, 25-13, 17-25, 15-25), the Anteaters have struggled to put forth a consistently competitive effort throughout the year, falling to a CSUN team that was 2-11 and nearly falling to a Cal State Fullerton that is currently 0-20 for the year.
“We had many opportunities to take a win in every set,” said junior setter Shelley Anderson, who finished just shy of a triple-double with eight kills, 38 assists, and 10 digs. “I think we had really good spurts of greatness, and I think we can just move forward for our next matches and try to carry that over and expand our greatness.”
With the loss, the Anteaters now hold a record of 10-12 (4-6 in the Big West), while the 49ers improved to an overall record of 18-5, 8-2 in conference play.
“There was some good volleyball at times tonight, and for whatever reason we just can’t maintain that throughout the match,” said first-year head coach Ashlie Hain. “I thought at times we were challenging Long Beach and matching [them]… we didn’t execute at the service line, which is a very basic skill that has nothing to do with Long Beach, so that’s frustrating as well.”
Both teams had three service aces apiece, but the Anteaters struggled from the service line, logging six errors compared to just one from the 49ers.
Offensively, the team was led by freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha with 15 kills, while senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld and redshirt sophomore Lena Latour both added 12 kills apiece.
“One of our biggest problems is our serve and pass, we struggled with our serving, and sometimes passing breaks down, and it’s usually one or the other,” said Anderson. “When one is good, the other one might be bad, it’s just kind of [maintaining] that and keeping that steady.”
UCI struggled early on in the first set, trailing 4-9 following an ace by LBSU freshman defensive specialist Sarah Miller. The 49ers held the upper-hand at 13-17 until a pair of consecutive kills by Latour and one by freshman middle blocker Idara Akpakpa put the Anteaters within one at 16-17, prompting a time-out from the Beach. While UCI repeatedly came within one point of tying the score, the49ers managed to pull away each time, and soon held double-match point at 24-22. UCI staved off the first match point with a kill by Latour, and an attack error by the 49ers on the second tied the game for the first time since 2-2 at the start. Although the Anteaters look poised to take the first set, an untimely service error swung the momentum back in favor of Long Beach, who clinched the set off a kill by sophomore middle blocker Ashley Murray.
The Anteaters kept pace with the 49ers at the start of the second, holding an 8-7 lead despite opening the set down 1-4. LBSU would not trail again however, as a 9-1 run would put the Beach in commanding control at 16-9. The Anteaters were unable to reestablish a foothold back into the set, only scoring four more points before falling 13-25. UCI finished the set with a .000 hitting percentage (8 kills and 8 errors on 27 attempts), while LBSU was an efficient .353 (16-4-34).
“We came out quiet, and just looked like we’d been defeated already, and it wasn’t the team that we were successful with,” said Bubica of the team’s effort in the second. “We talked about that between sets three and four in our break, and we discussed and I think we came out [differently].”
It was a much more tightly contested affair in the third set, with both teams trading the lead with one another until the 17-17 mark. From there, the Anteaters surged ahead to a four-point lead at 21-17 thanks to an ace by Kekauoha, eliciting a time-out from the Beach. A kill by Bubica out of the break pushed the lead to 22-17 elicited a second time out in as many points from LBSU. The Anteaters did not relent, and closed the set on an eight-point run, 25-17, to force a fourth set.
In the fourth set an ace by senior setter Jenelle Hudson gave LBSU an 11-7 edge. A kill by Kekauoha put the Anteaters within three at 12-9, but that’s as close as the team would get, as UCI only scored three more points before dropping the set 15-25 against the 49ers.
The Anteaters will return to the Bren Events Center Saturday night, where they will face off against Cal State Northridge at 7 pm.