Having won only two of their first seven conference games, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team looked to get back in the win column and defend home court against Cal State Fullerton and UC Riverside last week. With help from both individual performances and team play, the ‘Eaters (9-14, 4-5) were able to not drop a single set and swept both the Titans and the Highlanders.
Cal State Fullerton
Celebrating a 3-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton (6-16, 1-7) Thursday night, sophomore Harlee Kekauoha didn’t know that she would have an extra reason to celebrate after the postgame festivities were over.
Kekauoha’s match-clinching kill turned out to be a record-setting one, as she finished the contest with a program record .923 hitting percentage off 12 kills of 13 attempts. Her record-breaking effort tops Whiney Pavlik’s previous feat of a .909 clip in 2005.
“We know that Harlee was capable of that type of performance, and it has a lot to do with all the other parts of the game, like the passes and the setting, but when we can get her the set she needs, she’s pretty unstoppable,” said head coach Ashlie Hain.
Kekauoha would also go the entirety of the match without any errors and garner a career high of five aces from the service line (which is eighth in the Anteater record books). She would also earn nine digs in the game.
“I was just trying stay calm and remain composed during this game, because I know Fullerton normally comes out firing, and I just wanted to stay steady … I felt like our team overcame that,” said Kekauoha.
Senior outside hitter Victoria Dennis led the team with 17 kills, while senior setter Shelly Anderson had 45 set assists with seven digs. Junior libero Luna Tsujimoto earned a match-high 13 digs accompanied by two service aces. The ‘Eaters were able to hit .409 for the match while the Titans struggled with a .180 clip.
“We’re in a lot better rhythm. We worked on that during practice, just executing that plays in our system, and that’s helped a lot,” said Hain. “Everybody’s hitting percentage has gone way up and [as a result] our numbers have gotten better.”
In the first set, the ‘Eaters outhit the Titans .357-185 to win 25-18. Dennis led with six kills in the set and eventually hit the ultimate point to reward the ‘Eaters with a 1-0 advantage.
The second set was a bit more competitive, as the Titans were able to hold a slim 19-18 lead against the ‘Eaters. The set would eventually be knotted up at 21 apiece. The ‘Eaters would benefit from a 4-1, capped off once again by Dennis, to take the second set at 25-22 with a chance to sweep at Crawford Court.
Irvine would cruise in the third set as the Titans would hit a poor .115 percentage against their own .682 clip to complete the sweep at 25-11.
“I think that we’re still finding ourselves as a team, and the win tells us that we’re doing something right,” said Kekauoha. “We just need to keep pushing, and we can compete [with anyone] if we keep playing the way we played tonight.”
UCI continued their hot hitting on the annual Think Pink night, as they posted a .336 clip against the Highlanders’ .128 percentage for their second consecutive sweep Saturday night at the Bren Events Center.
Three ‘Eaters garnered double-digit kills in the win with Dennis, sophomore Haley DeSales, and Kekauoha earning 14, 11 and 10 kills respectively. Anderson posted 42 set assists and three block assists in the match, while Tsujimoto led all players with 17 digs.
“Anytime you can get a win, it helps with confidence and rhythm. What’s great about this team is that they keep working hard every day,” said assistant coach Sabrina Hernandez. “They buy into the process and eventually, as shown tonight, it will all fall into place.”
The ‘Eaters got off to a blazing start in the first set by going up 9-2 in the early goings. UCR battled back to trim the lead at 13-10, but the ‘Eaters would answer with a 5-1 run to go up at 18-11. A double block by junior Danielle Geiger and Dennis awarded the ‘Eaters the 25-16 set win.
UCI cruised to a second set victory, 25-14, ended by a service ace from Geiger. The third set proved to be the most competitive of the match, as it would be the only time the ‘Eaters would trail, but they were able to sustain the Highlanders’ last push and complete the sweep.
Riverside gave UCI some trouble in the third set, as they held a 19-15 advantage. The Highlanders’ bumped up to a 22-19 lead before the ‘Eaters went on a 7-2 run to end the match and earn a 26-24 victory. Winning both games of their two-game homestand, the ‘Eaters will head on the road to face a tougher challenge in Long Beach State and CSUN this week.
“I think it’s nice coming off a couple of wins and building some confidence,” said Hain. “We played Long Beach and Northridge really tough last time, and I know these girls want to get them, and I think we can do it. It’ll be tougher on the road, but I know those girls are still a little bitter about those two five set losses.”
The ‘Eaters will hit the road starting with a trip to the Walter Pyramid against the 49ers on Friday, followed by a date with Northridge against the Matadors the very next day.