After tapping at the goal numerous times and coming close with chances that didn’t materialize in their upsetting defeat against UC Davis last Thursday, the UC Irvine women’s volleyball team (9-4-4, 4-1-1) made the most out of their chances in their matchup against UC Riverside (6-9-2, 3-2-0) Sunday evening, pulling through with two goals in the first half to drop the Highlanders, 2-0.
“We had more shots than Davis but sometimes that’s just how the game goes,” senior midfielder Grayson Galbraith said of the ‘Eaters lost to Davis last Thursday. “But we’ve moved forward and we focused on Riverside this weekend. With the goals coming just a minute apart…I mean…that’s just relentless effort from our forwards, our midfields, [and] from everyone.”
Both goals came just a minute a part from one another as Galbraith emerged as the first to put one through the net. In the 18th minute, the ‘Eaters earned a corner that was launched in by junior midfielder Shelby Lee. Coming up with it, Galbraith slung her right foot back and crashed it within the right post to put the ‘Eaters up, 1-0.
“We practice corners over and over again in practice and we have great services,” Galbraith said. “In the last game we had around 12 corners and we just couldn’t get it in…so it was just something that we looked at [today] as a great opportunity and we took it. I just attacked it and luckily got a foot on it from a great service.”
Galbraith’s goal marks her third for the year, all of which have been game-winners. She also leads the team with 18 points as senior forward Kiana Palacios trails with a close 16.
A minute later, Palacios flicked one up the sideline where Shelby Lee received it and set up a perfect pass to redshirt senior forward Noel Baham for a point blank conversion.
“[When] we have a lot of chances but we don’t get the results that we want, they all lead up to games like this,” Lee said. “I think that there’s a lot that builds up into scoring goals once you’re into conference so there’s always more to a goal than just the individual play…but it’s always great when it hits the net. ”
Baham’s goal not only put the period on the match but also earned Lee her second assist on the match as well as for the season.
“It was great,” Lee said of her first two assists on the season. “When you put a ball in, you always hope, ‘please get on the end of it’ and the finishes are very awesome and super fun. I was just excited to get the ball in [today] and to give chances to my teammates to score.”
The ‘Eaters, who are first overall in shot attempts (89) in conference play, overwhelmed the Highlanders for the vast majority of the contest with a 12-6 shot advantage.
This was made most apparent in the first half when the ‘Eaters strung together multiple good looks and took seven shots to the Highlanders one.
Riverside’s single clean shot attempt did, however, give the ‘Eaters a good scare. Prior to Galbraith’s goal, a Highlander jumped out front to beat the ‘Eaters backline and went one on one with UCI sophomore keeper Maddie Newsom. As she propelled one straight at the nets, Newsom dove and punched it out of play.
The Elkgrove, Calif. native remained poised, comfortable, and active around the box, saving four shots for the match.
“Maddie is a top, top goal keeper,” head coach Scott Juniper said. “She’s 19 years old and she’s got a lot to learn [but] she plays like she’s 25. What’s good is that her and I have built a good player-coach relationship. She doesn’t mind when I raise my voice and I get her attention…sometimes she’ll raise her voice to make sure I know what she’s thinking and that’s okay. She’s going to get better every game.”
Newsom also cleared a Highlander free kick attempt that also fired straight into the box as she stepped up and raised high to block it. Drawing some contact, Newsom went down and a highlander defender converged on the ball and sent it through but an interference was called on the play and the shot was waived off.
With the shutout Sunday, Newsom moves to seven individual shutouts for the season thus far.
In the second half was a much more even affair as the Highlanders and ‘Eaters picked up five shot attempts per team.
For the ‘Eaters, sophomore Jessica Miclat nearly made it 3-0 for the ‘Eaters when she found herself wide open in front of the oppositions goal as the keeper had leaked out.
Attempting to get a hold of the ball, Miclat fired after a little bounce and gather, but a defender was there to knock it back out.
Miclat, who nearly equalized the match against the Aggies in Thursday night’s loss, also had a good look in the first that the keeper managed to punch and deflect off the crossbar. With her last goal coming back in August against Cal, Miclat is still searching for her first conference goal on the year.
Sunday’s victory not only got the ‘Eaters back on the win column but also earns them three points—for 13 overall points—to stay out front in conference standings and to distance themselves from UC Davis who is currently second with 10.
“Every game we go into…we have the same mentality,” Lee said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, everyone wants to put points up on the board. So we just got to go [into the next game] knowing that it’s a Big West game and to put everything we have into it…to not really worry about what else is going on in the conference and that at that moment we can get three points…that’s the biggest thing.”
UCI will now travel to CSUN (6-5-4, 2-1-1) Thursday for a brief road trip before returning to Anteater Stadium for another Sunday afternoon match at 2:00pm.
“CSUN won the conference by a point against us last year so I think we got a point to prove,” coach Juniper said. “But in this conference, every game is a 50-50 game. There’s no favorites [and] no underdogs…your record, your ranking, and your reputation mean nothing.”