Despite showing a significantly strengthened amount of mental toughness, the UCI women’s volleyball team (12-14, 6-8 Big West) still has room for improvement after being swept by No. 8 Hawai’i at the Bren Events Center Tuesday night.
Throughout the season, the team often struggled after scoring 20 points against opponents, but against Hawai’I in the first set, the Anteaters remained poised, bouncing back against two match points to force extra points before falling 24-26. However, UCI’s mental fortitude waned in sets two and three, as the Anteaters conceded each 21-25 and 14-25 respectively.
“I think letting set one slip away like that was really mentally tough for them,” said first-year head coach Ashlie Hain. “It was hard for them to rally back and it just kind of escalated throughout the match. They just kind of back downed unfortunately, and [UH] is a great team.”
With the win, UH (24-1, 14-0 Big West) has clinched the Big West Conference championship for the 20th time in 20 years, while the Anteaters fall to 0-32 all-time against the Rainbow Wahine.
Freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha led the Anteaters with 11 kills, but was held to a 1.89 hitting percentage. Junior outside hitter Victoria Dennis added eight kills on a .429 clip, and sophomore libero Luna Tsujimoto scooped a match-high 15 digs.
Hawai’i was led by Big West Player of the Week Nikki Taylor, who notched her seventh 20-kill performance of the season with a match-high 20 kills to along two service aces and four blocks. Taylor recorded 10 of her total 24.5 points for the night in the first set alone.
Both teams traded points early on, but the Anteaters would tally four straight points capped off with a service ace by senior middle blocker Ella Rosenfeld to take a 11-9 lead. UH would mirror UCI’s efforts however, coming back with a four-point run of their own to overtake the Anteaters 22-20 late in the first set. While UCI fended off two match-points at 22-24, UH secured the set off a double-block by sophomore setter Kendra Koelsch and sophomore middle blocker Emily Maglio. Hawai’i ended the night with six service aces, four of which came in the first set.
UH appeared poised to run away with the second set after surging out to a 6-2 lead, but the Anteaters collected themselves and tied the game with two consecutive double blocks at 14-14. That was as close as UCI would get however as the Rainbow Wahine kept the ‘Eaters at bay, and another double-block, this time by Maglio and sophomore outside hitter Kalei Greely closed the set 25-21.
Similar to the second set, UH jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the third, only this time the Rainbow Wahine rode their early momentum to a 16-8 lead off an ace by freshman outside hitter McKenna Granato. UCI could not contest UH in the third, and dropped the set 21-25 to give the Wahine the sweep.
While the Anteaters did not come away with the win tonight, they once again demonstrated that they hold the potential to compete with some of the nation’s top teams at their best.
“When we execute our game plan and control our unforced errors and take good swings, [we] can hang if not win a set or two or three and play with one of the best teams in the country,” said Hain. “We just have to learn to maintain and it’s really tough when you’re outmatched player for player, you have to be relentless play after play, and that’s just mental toughness.”
UCI returns to the Bren Events Center for a Saturday night match up against UC Davis on November 21st.