UC Irvine (9-4, 2-1) took down the UC Davis Aggies (5-9, 1-2) in a 3-1 match (26-24, 18-25, 25-23, 25-22) at the Bren Events Center as part of the Big West home opener on Friday, Oct. 1.
After an entire season without a live audience, UCI finally had the opportunity to play in front of a live crowd. With nearly 1,000 people watching, the Anteaters took their second win of the conference.
The first set of the match began with a small Anteater scoring run. Last season, the Irvine team struggled to obtain these point runs; however, Irvine seemed to maintain their momentum with ease alongside the audience’s energy.
With back-to-back kills by sophomore outside hitter Joy Umeh and redshirt sophomore outside hitter Kiani Stanton, the score jumped to 9-5, giving UCI a comfortable lead. Yet, the Auggies slowly closed the scoring gap with their controlled passing and strategically placed hits. Soon, they found themselves only two points behind the Anteaters at 13-11.
Again, the Anteaters slowly accumulated a scoring run towards the end of the match. Freshman outside hitter Grace Colburn led the effort, dishing out kills from the left side that were too powerful for Davis to pick up.
At 22-18, Irvine let up on their energy as they maintained a comfortable lead. Davis took this opportunity to showcase that they weren’t giving up. Davis went on to earn a 2-5 scoring run in hopes to rattle the Anteater team.
UCI head coach Ashlie Hain called a timeout at match point, 24-23, to rally her team into finishing out the set on a high note. As Davis accumulated another point, the Anteaters decided it was time to shut it down. Sophomore middle blocker Onye Ofoegbu let out a rocket at the net and finished the game off with a double block with freshman opposite Ellen Veargason to end the first set in UCI’s favor, 26-24.
The second set of the match followed the same energy as the end of the first. Both sides were tied a total of nine times until Davis took a small lead at 15-12 after well-placed hits and solid passing. Yet, Umeh reminded Davis that UCI was at home as she threw down another set of back-to-back kills from the left.
Still, the Aggies went on an 8-3 run to increase their lead at 23-17. Without much pushback from the Irvine side, Davis finished off the second set at 25-18 to make it 1-1 apiece.
Davis used the momentum from the second set’s victory to catapult them into the third set with a quick 12-5 lead. The Anteater side looked bleak but managed to scrape together a couple of points at a time, intent on not giving up the set.
With the crowd cheering them on, the ‘Eaters managed to slowly go on a 5-0 run while keeping the Aggies at bay to make the score 12-10. As the Irvine team found their footing in the third set, Davis also maintained their energy. It wasn’t long before both teams were tied again at 16 each.
The tension grew as both teams tied the score five more times and the stakes began to rise. Davis couldn’t handle the pressure and made an unfortunate hitting error that gave Irvine the chance to pull to the end of the match. Another massive block by the double-blocking duo, Ofoegbu and Veargason, ended the game with another victory for Irvine at 25-23.
The fourth and final set was prime time for Umeh, who was bringing destruction onto the Aggies. Within the first 10 minutes of the set, she racked up a total of six solo kills to give Irvine a booming 8-2 lead. As a result, Umeh reached her career high with 20 kills overall in this match.
All the Irvine team had to do to win was keep up the energy that Umeh brought into the final set, which is exactly what they did. Keeping the consistency with both passing and setting, the Anteater hitters kept firing; behind the service line, the ‘Eaters kept up pressure.
With an ace by sophomore libero Sofia Skukan, the score became 15-6; the game was almost completely in Anteater hands. Suddenly, Davis went on an unexpected five point scoring run with massive kills from the front row outside, taking the ‘Eater passers off guard.
Irvine managed to get in a few more points with blocks, but Davis refused to let off the gas and shifted the momentum of the game with an 11-2 scoring sprint. This tied up the score for the first time of the fourth set, 17-17.
Again, Ofoegbu stepped up with debilitating blocks from the middle to shut down the Davis hitting. With that, Ofoegbu obtained the match high for six block assists paired with 16 kills.
With the Aggies shaken up, the Irvine side took the opportunity to get in a few kills. Finally, Veargason secured a kill from the right side to finish the set at 25-22 and complete the match 3-1 for the ‘Eater victory.
Overall, Irvine simply out blocked, out passed and out hit the Davis team with 61 kills and digs during the night’s match. Two freshmen reached their career highs this game with setter Indy Desmet at 14 digs and libero Carly Richter’s career high of 10 assists.
UC Irvine will embark on another home game at the Bren Events Center against the UC Riverside Highlanders as part of their second Big West home court match up on Saturday, Oct. 2.
Gina Johnson is a 2021-2022 Sports Editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.