With Big West leader No. 14 Hawai’i scheduled to visit the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team (10-17, 5-8) at the Bren Events Center, head coach Ashlie Hain expected a hard fought battle in the trenches and Thursday night’s matchup became exactly that.
In a 3-0 sweep against the ‘Eaters, the Rainbow Wahine (19-5, 12-1) were able to make their presence known up front as they out-blocked UCI 14-1. The ‘Eaters failed to get any rhythm, unable to find their identity, against the Rainbow Wahine’s elite style of play but coach Hain explained to her team that the loss should only serve as motivation to get better and eventually defeat teams like Hawai’i for the seasons to come.
“I knew this one was going to be difficult with Hawai’i playing at the top of their game right now, their pretty phenomenal, but we continue to fight regardless of the score,” said Hain, “I talked to the team about the program being bigger than any individual, to pick their heads up, and think about ways to beat teams like that in the future”
Irvine struggled offensively garnering a .067 clip while the Rainbow Wahine flourished with .382. For the ‘Eaters, sophomore Harlee Kekauoha led in the kills department with nine of her own while senior setter Shelley Anderson notched 23 set assists with seven digs. Hawai’i senior Nikki Taylor and junior Emily Maglio put the exclamation point in front of the net, as they had seven and nine blocks respectively. Taylor also connected on 11 kills on 15 attempts to hit a .733 clip on the match.
“They are just a ridiculous blocking team and their blocking has always been great especially] when you’re 6’4 across the line and athletic,” said Hain, “They are just bigger than us so we were mismatched every single time.”
In the first set, the ‘Eaters hit a poor -.036 against the Rainbow Wahine’s efficient .444 hitting percentage leading to Hawai’i’s 25-14 first set victory. The ‘Eaters kept things close down 10-9 early before the Rainbow Wahine went on a 7-1 run to assume control of the set, up 17-10. Hawai’i would close on an 8-2 spurt to take the opening set victory.
The ‘Eaters’ hitting woes continued onto the second set as they hit an .057 clip against an improved .458 for the Rainbow Wahine. Hawai’i asserted themselves in front of the net as they registered six team blocks and eventually cruised to a 25-13 victory in hopes of a sweep against the ‘Eaters.
Hawai’i jumped out to a 21-13 advantage but the ‘Eaters clawed back in one final comeback attempt to make things 23-16. Both teams traded points and the Rainbow Wahine eventually earned the decisive point to hand the ‘Eaters their fourth consecutive loss. Having played a string of matches without a week’s rest, the ‘Eaters will utilize this upcoming week off to go back to the drawing board, one last time, in hopes to end the season with some positivity.
“We want to get wins on the road and being on the road hasn’t really fazed us and I think we actually play worse at home for some reason,” said Hain, “I actually think we rise to the challenge on the road and always battle teams on the road pretty well. We have a nice long break before our next game which I think is needed at this point, we put up more matches than anybody in the conference this year against a lot tougher opponents, so we’re them a couple days of with a lift to try to get them fresh and be get them ready for their last few matches.”
The ‘Eaters will conclude conference play on the road, against UC Davis (Nov. 19) and UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 23), before ending the season at home for senior night against North Texas on the 26th.