Women’s Volleyball Drops Pair of Big West Matches at Home
After a solid showing on the road, splitting a pair of five-set matches against Long Beach State and CSUN, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team returned home looking to gain some serious ground in the Big West with Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara coming to town. The ‘Eaters failed to gain any traction and dropped to the Mustangs 3-1, before being swept by a hot-hitting Gauchos squad.
The ‘Eaters (10-16, 5-7) could not handle the Mustangs as Cal Poly (15-8, 8-4) put forth an impressive defensive display en route to a 25-18, 19-25, 25-21, 29-27 victory at the Bren Events Center on Thursday. The Mustangs totaled 82 digs with five players in double figures, with sophomore libero Katherine Brouker leading the way with a game high 26.
Cal Poly held the slight edge in hitting percentage (.219-.204) as well as in service aces (8-7) but the ‘Eaters stayed in the match controlling the front line with 11 team blocks to the Mustangs’ six.
Senior Victoria Dennis had a team-high 16 kills while freshmen Loryn Carter and Mikayla Wolfe both notched career highs in kills with 14 and eight, respectively. Junior libero Luna Tsujimoto chipped in 20 digs while fellow senior libero Arden Davis put up a season-high 17.
Sophomore Adlee Van Winden paced three Mustangs with double digit kills with a match-high 20 as senior Taylor Gruenewald added 15 and junior Raeann Greisen finished with 13.
Cal Poly took control of the first set with five straight points before the ‘Eaters could get on the board. Although UCI was able to cut the lead to three midway through the set, the Mustangs would not relinquish the lead and benefitted from a Van Winden kill to grab the 1-0 lead.
The ‘Eaters roared back with a hot start of their own, taking the first four points of the second set. Sophomore Harlee Kekauoha set the tone, adding to her conference-leading service ace tally to extend the ‘Eater lead to 16-11. A Kekauoha kill and a final kill by junior Danielle Geiger would wrap up the second set in favor of the ‘Eaters.
The highly-contested third set saw both teams trade points until the ‘Eaters were able to grab a 16-15 lead, but the Mustangs grabbed six of the last eight points to finish it off 25-21.
Trailing by three in the fourth set, UCI went on a 5-2 run to tie the score at 19-19, but could not hold off the Mustangs as they prevailed 29-27 to secure the win.
UCI did not have an answer for hot-hitting Santa Barbara (16-9, 7-5) on Saturday, falling to the Gauchos 25-22, 25-18, 25-21. The Gaucho hitters found their groove early on and could not be stopped, while UCSB’s defensive effort was there to snuff out whatever rally UCI tried to put together.
“That’s not us. We haven’t played a match like that for a while,” said head coach Ashlie Hain. “The score was a lot closer than it felt, and our girls know that’s not the team that we are and that’s not how we work every day together.”
Dennis led the ‘Eaters with eight kills, followed by Carter with seven and Kekuaoha and Geiger adding six apiece. Kekauhoa tallied three service aces in the match, but it was the Gauchos who were controlling the match with their serves.
The ‘Eaters were aced ten times in the match, including eight from freshman Lindsey Ruddins, who also garnered a match-high 15 kills.
“Getting aced a lot kind of deflated us more than it should have,” said Hain, “There should have been more talk. We haven’t really ever played a match like that where we just didn’t have the fight, so I think it was uncharacteristic.”
Consecutive aces in the first set expanded UCSB’s lead to 14-9, and despite UCI keeping up the pressure, the Gauchos were able to close out the set 25-22.
UCI played a tough second set and closed to within one at 14-13 after a double team block, but UCSB rallied for five straight behind three service aces from Ruddins and took the second set 25-18.
The Gauchos remained in control in the third set. UCI came within one at 11-10, but UCSB reeled off five of the next six and did not look back en route to the 25-21 clincher.
UCI’s path will not get any easier as No. 15 Hawai’i comes to town next week, who are known to get hot from the service line as well. Hain anticipates aggressive play from her team at the service line as they look to avenge their 3-1 loss at Hawai’i earlier this season.
“We just want to get our confidence back,” said Hain. “Our receive has been pretty good all season. That hasn’t been an issue, so to have that be the issue tonight was a little discombobulating, and I think that we’re good passers and we are a good receive team. We just got to get back to that and make sure they know that they’ve prepared well to see those kind of serves.”