Beginning conference play at home this past weekend, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team (5-11, 0-2) failed to have the start they had hoped for as they dropped both games to conference foes CSUN and rival Long Beach State. Both games concluded in the fifth set where the ‘Eaters would be bested on both occasions in the Bren Events Center.
The trials and tribulations on head coach Ashlie Hain’s bunch continued as they suffered a five-set loss against CSUN (6-8, 2-0) in their conference opener. Hain knows that her team is placed in positions to pull out victories but lack the understanding and leadership to close out tightly-contested sets.
“We haven’t been great in the 20s, and that is something that we are going to [continue] to work on in practice,” said Hain. “We’ve got to trust each other and trust the system in the 20s and not move away from it.”
With the loss to CSUN (25-20, 23-25, 25-21, 23-25, 13-15), the ‘Eaters are now 1-3 in five-set matches and coach Hain credits their inability to finish sets on her team’s inexperience playing on the court.
“We’re young and even the seniors who are playing haven’t played this much,” said Hain. “We wanted to be good right now but at the same time even our older players are really new to the court so we have to be patient with them because they are still learning the game too.”
UCI (5-10, 0-1) nearly bested the Matadors in every category except the battle up front, being out-blocked 13-7. Sophomore Harlee Kekauoha had an impressive showing, registering her third triple-double of the season with 11 kills, 24 assists and 12 digs. The feat makes her one in five players in the nation to earn a triple-double this season. Senior Victoria Dennis once again led the ‘Eaters with 19 kills, also notching a career-high nine digs. The ‘Eaters outhit (.230-233), out dug (82-76), and had more aces (6-5) than CSUN but could not gel together on the defensive end of the court.
“Our defense is poor right now and everybody is kind of on a different page,” said Hain. “We’ve had some people out coming back, so that might play a factor just because it hasn’t been a consistent lineup. I’m hoping in the future that the people that are out there learn to play together.”
Back-to-back double blocks early in the first set capped off a four-point run and gave the ‘Eaters an 8-4 lead over the Matadors. CSUN was able to rally back and tie the score at 16 until the ‘Eaters took the reins and won the set 25-20.
Northridge took control of the second set off a five point run to take a 12-9 lead over the ‘Eaters. At set point of 24-21 in favor of the Matadors, the ‘Eaters were able to give CSUN a scare and cut the deficit to just one, until sophomore Aeryn Owens secured the set and tied things up heading into the third.
UCI answered back in the third set as they led for the entirety of the period. The ‘Eaters were able to fend off a late 7-3 spurt by the Matadors as a kill by Kekauoha sealed the 25-21 victory.
A see-saw fourth period, which included 11 tie scores, eventually saw CSUN pull out a 25-23 win to force a fifth set of play.
With a four-point run capped off by a service ace, the Matadors were able to earn a 12-9 lead in the final set and force a timeout by coach Hain. The ‘Eaters would answer back to tie the score at 13 apiece but falter and drop the set 15-13, awarding the Matadors the win in the Big West Conference opener.
“It’s really disappointing and I think the girls are disappointed with their performance. I don’t think that they don’t want to play well, I just think that there is a lack of understanding of how to execute each and every play,” said Hain. “The thing about this team is that I think that we can beat anyone and lose to anyone, and it’s just a matter of us executing [and] it just needs to translate in the match.”
Long Beach State
A game that many would write off to the 49ers (8-7, 2-0) turned into a five-set classic as the ‘Eaters would hang with their Black and Blue rival until the very end.
The ‘Eaters would lead the 49ers in digs (88-87), blocks (9-6) and aces (5-3) but would be outhit .216-.238 and ultimately lose the contest 3-2 (25-22, 23-25, 14-25, 25-18, 13-15). Dennis paved the way for UCI in the kills department with 23, while Kekauoha notched a double-double with 13 kills and 13 digs.
UCI came out of the gate strong on an 8-4 run over Long Beach, but the 49ers answered back to gain a 16-15 lead. The ‘Eaters immediately responded off a timeout by coach Hain, with a 5-1 run of their own to take a 21-16 advantage. The set was ended by a Kekauoha kill, and the ‘Eaters earned the 25-22 victory.
A pause in play in the second set shifted the momentum in favor of Long Beach State as they were able to pull out a 25-23 set win to tie things up at a set apiece.
Long Beach dominated the third set with a 13-2 run to give them set point over the ‘Eaters. The ‘Eaters were able to shed off two more points but the 49ers ultimately took the set 25-14.
In response to the third set, the ‘Eaters would cruise to a victory of their own. A 16-3 run had the ‘Eaters on top 20-8, but the 49ers clawed back to give the ‘Eaters a scare. UCI was able to weather the storm by the Beach and force a fifth set with the 25-18 victory.
Long Beach jumped to an 8-4 lead in the final set, but the ‘Eaters would not go down without a fight. The 49ers had match point at 14-11 until the ‘Eaters managed to pull within just one. In the end it was simply Long Beach’s night as a kill awarded the 49ers their second win of the conference season.
The ‘Eaters will have a one-game road stop at Fullerton on Wednesday before returning to the Bren to face UC Davis on Saturday.