The UC Irvine women’s volleyball team closed out the year winning six of their last seven sets and securing two wins for head coach Ashlie Hain and company. The ‘Eaters swept UC Santa Barbara (17-12, 8-8) on the road before returning home to host North Texas (14-18) on senior night, winning 3-1.
UC Santa Barbara
UCI traveled to the Thunderdome on Wednesday looking to avenge a 3-0 loss earlier in the season, walking away with a 3-0 (25-20, 25-19, 25-23) victory over the Gauchos on the backs of strong performances by freshmen Mikayla Wolfe and Loryn Carter.
Carter led the team in kills with 11 at a .476 clip and Wolfe registered six kills without a single attack error, leading the ‘Eaters to the kill advantage 47-38 while outhitting their opponents .318-.268.
Senior Victoria Dennis posted double digit kills with 10, and sophomore Harlee Kekauoha added seven along with a team high 10 digs. Senior libero Arden Davis matched Kekauoha with 10 digs as well, and senior Shelley Anderson added eight digs and 37 set assists.
UCI nursed a two-point lead late in the first set before consecutive kills from Carter and a Wolfe ace locked down the 25-20 victory.
The ‘Eaters looked to have the second set in hand up 21-12, but the Gauchos roared back for five straight closing the gap to 21-17. Back-to-back kills by Kekauoha and senior Danielle Geiger put an end to the threat and UCI took the set 25-19.
A highly contested third set broke out with the Gauchos ahead late, but a kill from Carter, who converted five on only seven attempts in the third set, put UCI ahead by one 21-20. With the score tied at 23-23, Dennis knocked down a kill and Wolfe and Anderson teamed up for the clincher to take down the set and the match.
Seniors Victoria Dennis, Danielle Geiger, Arden Davis and Shelley Anderson were recognized and honored before Saturday’s season finale at the Bren, in which the ‘Eaters calmly recovered from an early deficit to the dispatch the Mean Green of North Texas 3-1 (22-25, 25-15, 25-23, 25-18).
“The seniors wanted to go out on a high note and the team just rallied behind that,” said Davis, “They wanted us to go out on a high note too so it was nice to see the team come together and bring the energy we needed to bring. The seniors came out with a little bit of nerves, it being our last game and all. Once we recovered from that and said hey this is what we’ve been doing since we were 10, 11 years old we were ready to go.”
Geiger registered a match-high 16 kills at an astounding .483 hitting percentage to go with four block assists. Kekauoha was right behind with 15 kills and 13 digs, her ninth double-double of the season.
Davis notched a season-high 24 digs, and Anderson, who sits at third all-time in the UCI record books in set assists, added 47 more to her total along with 14 digs to boot.
Hain, who holds the top spot in UCI’s record books, appreciates the effort and effectiveness that Anderson put forth over her career.
“She’s involved in every play, there’s always a critic,” said Hain, “You’ve got three setters on the bench, so she’s always getting feedback; it’s a tough job to set for three setter coaches.
I admire the job she’s done and she’s gotten better and better each year I was here.”
Carter added nine kills to Dennis’ eight, while Wolfe had five block assists, helping the ‘Eaters to a 12.5-6.0 block edge to go with their .219-.112 hitting percentage advantage.
North Texas caught fire early, closing down the first set on a 10-4 run and securing a 25-22 win.
The ‘Eaters dropped the first four points of the second set before settling in and playing solid team volleyball.
“We weren’t nervous, we just needed to find our groove,” said Geiger, “It’s kind of the way we’ve always been, and I think that’s how we were able to push through.”
An ace from Kekauoha gave UCI an 8-7 lead and also gave the sophomore a whopping 51 for the season, tied for most from any player in the Big West.
The Mean Green kept it close before the ‘Eaters took complete control and scored 12 of the next 13 points en route to the 25-15 win.
The third set came down to the wire, with the score knotted at 19-19 after Dennis knocked down a kill. Kills by Geiger and Carter gave UCI a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish, wrapping up the set 25-23 on another kill from Dennis.
“We have great senior leadership these last few matches the seniors have really stepped up,” Hain said, “Not one particular person, tonight it was Dani, but they really made the plays when it counted and we’ve been looking for that all season, just someone to step up in the right situation. I call it the midway mark, 15 all or 16 all, to really push through to the end of the game.
And they’ve been doing that these last couple matches and I’m really proud of that, I think that was the difference.”
The ‘Eaters took an early lead in the third set and didn’t look back, ending the match and the season on an ace from Wolfe for the 25-18 third set win.
UCI closes their slate with a 13-18 overall record, finishing 7-9 in the Big West, but were able to finish strong and keep hopes high for next year.