UCI Women’s Volleyball (1-0, 1-0) took down the UC Davis Aggies (0-1, 0-1), 3-1 (25-19, 16-25, 25-17, 25-13), for their first match of the 2021 season at the Bren Events Center on May 9.
The first set of the match began with a Davis serve; this was quickly picked up and UCI sophomore outside hitter Joy Umeh secured a well-placed kill from the right side that put Irvine on the scoreboard first. On the left side, senior opposite hitter Cassie Stewart got a point for the ‘Eaters with a tricky tool off the Aggie block.
Despite not having played competitively in over a year, the Anteaters dominated at the net with their blocking defense. Davis was unable to find a way past their wall. Still, back row defense was wavering for the ‘Eaters as they struggled to communicate on passing.
In order to get past the Irvine block, Davis tipped up and over the hands of UCI sophomore middle blocker Onye Ofoegbu. The Aggies were able to get in a couple of points this way before Ofoegbu shut them down with a powerful hit from the middle. The score was 5-2, with UCI in the league.
Still, Davis rallied on roll shots and tips to get in some points. However, Irvine started inching up on defense and turned their shots into points with hard swings at the net. A deep swing by freshman outside hitter Marianna Bertolone increased the Anteater lead to 8-3.
As the set progressed, Irvine started to lose their defensive edge over Davis and began to put up lazy blocks. This gave Davis the confidence to start swinging. Consequently, freshman opposite hitter Olivia Utterback achieved an insane go kill with no Irvine block, bringing up Davis’ score to 8-12.
Momentum built for the Aggies, who seemed more energetic than at the start of the match. Yet, Irvine’s offense put pressure on their passers, causing them to scramble and send free balls to the ‘Eater side. Irvine took the opportunity to run middle plays, shattering the Davis defense.
Still, the Aggies were able to slowly ramp up their swings mainly from the pins and closed the scoring gap to 17-21. However, Davis’ blocks were unable to hold back Irvine’s strong swings or even slow them down. Umeh closed out the set with a deep corner kill from the left side. This ended the first game at 25-19, with Irvine winning the first set of the night, 1-0.
The second set of the match started strong for the ‘Eaters as Bertolone earned a massive block, giving Irvine the first point of the set. Unlike the previous game, both teams struggled to find the court with both their hits and serves. Davis and Irvine stayed tied up throughout the first half of the set.
Davis broke away by benefiting from unforced attack errors by the ‘Eaters, and Aggie energy amped up along with their passing and hitting. Improved passes allowed Davis to run their middle, securing a kill and the lead, 11-7.
In a desperate move, Irvine partially got their rhythm back with a setter dump. However, the Anteaters couldn’t control their swings, resulting in three consecutive missed hits. Due to holes in the block that allowed Davis’s balls to get through, Irvine’s previous confidence in the first set was lost in the second set.
Utterback earned an ace for Davis, which was the first ace of the night. A middle kill followed and found its way past the Irvine block, increasing Davis’ lead to 16-11. The Anteaters accumulated a few more points from missed serves and hits by Davis but weren’t able to catch up. The Aggies ended the second set with an outside kill, 25-16.
The third set began with an Irvine point after a double call on Davis. This set was different from the previous two since long rallies occurred on both sides of the net, coupled with good passer communication. After nearly a whole minute rally, Davis secured the point of an Irvine shanked pass to tie it at 4-4.
With better passing, Davis built their confidence in their middle plays, catching Irvine’s defense off guard. Yet, the Anteaters regained their momentum with their own offensive pressure and forced the Aggies to resort back to their scramble plays.
Irvine also integrated their middles to double the pressure for the Davis blockers. The Aggie block stopped Umeh on the left side, 11-13. However, the Davis blockers burned out, allowing UCI to break away. After too many unforced hitting errors from UC Davis, the set ended at 25-17 with another Irvine win.
Going into the fourth and final set at 2-1 in favor of UCI, Ofoegbu completely roofed Davis’ middle and this started the set on a strong note for the ‘Eaters. Offensively, Irvine dominated the set and was primarily led by Ofoegbu, Umeh and Bertolone.
The ‘Eaters went on a 5-0 scoring run and the Davis back row defense was unable to read the Irvine hitters. Ofoegbu secured yet another powerful middle kill; however, Davis finally got a point after a touch off of Ofoegbu’s left hand. This made the score 7-1, Irvine leading.
Davis seemed to stick with tooling the Irvine block, gaining some points with back-to-back touches. With some momentum, the Aggies put more power behind their hits and freshman outside hitter Amara Aimufua got in an incredible kill from the left side. However, Davis was still behind, 6-15.
Still, the Irvine at-the-net defense was too solid for Davis to penetrate. Coupled with their mighty offense, Irvine continued their lead. After a kill by sophomore outside hitter Carissa MacDonald, Irvine was only one point away from victory.
The match went to the ‘Eaters after Umeh threw down the Davis overpass, ending the game at 13-25 and a 3-1 victory for Irvine.
The UCI Women’s Volleyball team played UC San Diego for their second match of the season but there was no stream or final score posted. The Anteaters face UC Riverside at the Bren Events Center on May 25..
Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.