Starting off their 2016-2017 campaign in the USC Baden Invitational on Friday, which hosts three teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team were tested right out of the opening gate.
The ‘Eaters season began with a clash against Santa Clara where they were swept in three straight sets (25-21, 25-22, 25-19) at the Galen Center. Santa Clara, who outhit the ‘Eaters .302 to .132, were led by senior outside hitter Nikki Hess and her 13 kill performance on 26 swings. For the ‘Eaters, senior outside hitter Victoria Dennis led the bunch with 13 kills while sophomore Harlee Kekauoha followed with 10 kills and a team best eight digs of her own. Sophomore Ali Koumelis and senior Shelly Anderson set up the kills for the ‘Eaters, with 18 and 11 respectively.
Following a six point run to give the ‘Eaters a 14-9 advantage in the first set, Kekauoha registered a kill and a service ace to help the ‘Eaters to a 19-15 lead. After the Broncos rallied from behind and knotted the set at 19 all, back to back kills by Dennis and junior opposite Danielle Geiger gave the ‘Eaters a 21-19 edge. Santa Clara would shut out the ‘Eaters and have a six point run of their own to take the set at 25-21.
The second set once again saw Irvine garner an early lead, 9-8, but the Broncos would come back to tie the score up at 10-10. A trio of aces, a Hess Kill, and an ‘Eater error gave Santa Clara the 18-10 advantage and force the ‘Eaters to retaliate. The ‘Eaters knotted the set up at 21 a piece but fail to secure the win and lose the set 25-22.
Down two sets to one, the ‘Eaters could not keep their composure as they hit an abysmal .000 in the third set. In a seven run spurt by the Broncos, the ‘Eaters recorded five errors and lose the third set 25-19. The ‘Eaters have little time to hang their heads as they have an afternoon matchup against Marquette on Saturday.
Head Coach Ashlie Hain enters her second year at the helm as her team looks to improve from a 13-15 overall record last season which landed them in a tie for fifth place in the Big West Conference. UC Irvine were picked to finish fourth in the preseason polls for this season.
The ‘Eaters will have their home opener against Northeastern, after concluding the USC Baden Invitational against the Trojans on Sunday, on September 3rd at 7:00 p.m. in the Bren Events Center.