Through a season filled with myriad highs and lows, the UCI women’s volleyball team was able to end its season on a high note with a 3-0 sweep over UCSB at the Bren Events Center last Tuesday night.
With their win, the Anteaters have now concluded their 2015 campaign with an overall record of 13-15 (7-9 Big West) under the guidance of first-year head coach Ashlie Hain. While Tuesday’s contest finished off what will be remembered as the dawn of a new era in the program under Hain, it also marked the final game in the collegiate careers of Marisa Bubica, Ella Rosenfeld and Sydney Wright.
On senior night, Wright, who had been injury-ridden several times throughout her career, played a key role in the Anteaters’ victory, contributing a team high 11 points (alongside Bubica and freshman opposite Harlee Kekauoha) with eight kills, two service aces and two block assists,
“It’s been really rocky. I’ve dealt with a lot of injuries,” said Wright. “Going out on a high note is all that I could have asked for; my teammates have been amazing [in] supporting me to get to this point, so I’m just really grateful to play and contribute in my senior year.”
While the Anteaters had a subpar offensive outing with a .198 hitting percentage, the team was able to hold the Gauchos down to an egregious .062 percent, thanks in part to a total of 10.5 team blocks. The team’s success at the net was facilitated by freshman middle blocker Idara Akpakpa, who recorded team highs in solo blocks (two) and block assists (five).
A fifth-year outside hitter, Bubica finished the night with nine kills, a service ace, seven digs and two block assists. Rosenfeld, a fellow fifth-year and middle blocker who led the team in hitting percentage on the year with .322, had four kills, three digs and one block assist to move her into sole possession of 10th all-time at UCI in block assists with 251.
Neither team had an efficient offense in the first set, with UCI recording a flat 0.00 percent, while UCSB was only marginally better at 0.026 percent. After a sluggish start, the Anteaters rallied off eight straight points — punctuated by a kill by Wright — to take a 13-7 lead. The Gauchos managed to cut the deficit to within one on multiple occasions, but Bubica topped off a pair of back-to-back kills with a service ace to give the ‘Eaters a four-point cushion at 20-16. UCSB once again came within one point of closing the deficit at 24-23, but a putaway by Rosenfeld down the middle closed the frame in favor of the Anteaters 25-23.
It was déjà vu in the second set, as the Anteaters strung together another 8-0 run after trailing to take a 14-9. Wright, who served up two aces during the run, was iced following a Santa Barbara time out, but the damage had already been done. The Gauchos went on to only score five more points for the remainder of the set before a ball handling error ended the set 25-14.
A kill by Rosenfeld between a string of three attack errors by the Gauchos gave the Anteaters a 7-4 lead early in the third set. After trailing 10-5, the Gauchos were able to muster the will to whittle away at the lead, coming within one on multiple occasions, but were never quite able to catch the Anteaters. Following the 14-13 mark, both teams began trading points with one another, until a service ace by junior setter Shelley Anderson gave the Anteaters a three-point separation at 20-17. Fittingly enough, a kill by Bubica would clinch the match at 25-20 and cap off the season for the Anteaters.
The win marks the first time the Anteaters have swept the Gauchos since 2007, and their second win against UCSB this year, which has not been done since 2008.
For coach Hain, who was hired at the tail end of spring and thus only had a limited amount time to train with the team, the 2016 season will be more a more accurate reflection of the abilities of the coaching staff and players.
“I’m excited. I told the girls in the locker room the 2016 season starts tomorrow, and I get my fair shake at the offseason training,” said Hain. “[I’m] really excited to get a chance to get a full cycle in with them.
“We were just piecing it together this season because we walked in and had what we had, so we made the best of it, and worked with the players even though we hadn’t trained with them. A lot of things were quick fixes.”
With the program having already made several strides under Hain, including wins over then-No. 21 USD and Pac-10 Conference powerhouse Oregon State, the departing seniors can conclude the final chapter on their collegiate careers knowing that the best years for the program are still yet to come.
“Ashlie’s creating something really good here,” said Bubica. “I think we’ve created something good, and a stepping stone. This program is on the ups and should be really good next year.”