By Leanne Yuen
The UC Irvine women’s volleyball team (18-3, 6-2) sustained its third loss of the season with a sweep from Big West leader Cal Poly (20-2, 10-0) Tuesday evening at the Bren. The defeat snapped the ‘Eaters’ six-game win streak and undefeated home game record.
All three sets were neck and neck, with respective scores of 25-22, 25-20, and 25-23. The Mustangs outperformed the ‘Eaters in every statistical category except service percentage (.910-.877), but junior middle blocker Idara Akpakpa came out with the highest hitting percentage of every player on the court with an impressive .619.
“Cal Poly’s a great team with great hitters,” head coach Ashlie Hain said. “But I think we beat ourselves for sure tonight, and I think the girls will hopefully get after it the next time we see them.”
The first set was tight from the start, with two tie scores in the first four serves as the ‘Eaters trailed by no more than two points at a time. However, a service error from senior libero Luna Tsujimoto, an attack error from junior outside Haley DeSales, and a double contact by redshirt senior setter Ali Koumelis gave the Mustangs a 5-point lead. From there, the ‘Eaters could never quite recover.
It was not until the Mustangs were in a set point situation that the ‘Eaters embarked on a 5-point rally and came within two points of tying the set. After a Cal Poly time out, the Mustangs came back with a kill and ended the set at 25-22.
The second set proved to be even tighter, as it saw six tie scores and two lead changes. Although the Mustangs did not gain a large lead as quickly as they did in the first set, a DeSales service error sparked a 5-point Cal Poly rally to widen the score 21-15. Similarly to the first set, the ‘Eaters did not gain momentum until the Mustangs were looking for the set point. A 3-point rally provided a brief instance of hope before a Mustang kill put it away at 25-20.
According to coach Hain, the third set was when the team “started playing through [their emotions]” and letting their nerves affect their play. Although the score remained close during the set, Cal Poly held the lead for its entirety. On multiple occasions, the ‘Eaters came one point away from tying the set, but never built up the momentum to completely close the gap. A kill by junior opposite Harlee Kekauoha brought the set to a tense score of 24-23, but the ‘Eaters could not muster the single point that may have turned things around. A Cal Poly kill concluded the match at 25-23.
On Friday, October 27th, the ‘Eaters head to Northridge to face the CSUN Matadors (10-11, 4-5). “We’re just going to focus on playing UCI volleyball, which is great serve and pass, great defense, and not letting our nerves get the best of us,” said Coach Hain.