The UC Irvine Women’s Volleyball team (11-5, 4-2) fell to the Hawaii Rainbow Wahine in a 3-1 match (25-20, 20-25, 25-27, 15-25) at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, Oct. 9, ending their three-game winning streak.
The first set of the match was tightly contested with both teams exchanging kills; however, the Anteaters managed to gain a 16-10 lead with emphatic kills coming from sophomore outside hitter Joy Umeh and sophomore middle blocker Onye Ofoegbu.
The Hawaii Rainbow Wahine did not stay down for long as their great defense and errors from UCI led them to a 6-2 run, bringing their lead to 18-16. However, Hawaii never fully capitalized and the Anteaters pulled away.
Ofoegbu’s defense prevented the Rainbow Wahine from gaining any more momentum. A timely kill gave UCI a 24-19 lead, with match point being gained on a Hawaii serving error.
The second set of the match started with both teams failing again to gain a big lead. A powerful spike from UCI freshman outside hitter Marianna Bertolone closed a small Hawaii gap to 13-12. This was followed by back-to-back blocks from Umeh and Ofoegbu, which gave the Anteaters a minor 14-13 lead.
Passing errors and out of bounds from Hawaii gave UCI a 17-14 lead. However, the Rainbow Wahine did not stay down for long as they rallied to tie the set at 18 apiece. An emphatic spike from UCI freshman opposite hitter Ellen Veargason stopped Hawaii’s run and gave the ‘Eaters a 19-18 lead.
Hawaii was not discouraged by the freshman’s kill as they went on a five-kill run, forcing UCI head coach Ashlie Hain to take a timeout. With the score 23-19 in Hawaii’s favor after the timeout, the Rainbow Wahine would not take their foot off the gas. They won the set, 25-20, as the Anteaters only managed to score one point after the time-out. Hawaii tied the sets, 1-1.
After the first two sets, it seemed like both teams were evenly matched, making the third set a must-win for either side. Things looked encouraging at the beginning for the Anteaters, with their strong front row defense pushing them to a 7-2 lead.
The lead did not last long as Irvine’s passing errors helped Hawaii tie the match at seven points each. The Rainbow Wahine continued their run and took over the game once they jumped ahead to a 16-10 lead. Great defense from Umeh, Ofoegbu and freshman middle blocker Soana Leaea helped the ‘Eaters tie it up at 19-19.
The tension between these two teams was tangible with a good portion of the Bren filled with Hawaii fans. The two teams continued to exchange mini runs until the score was at 24-24. A Hawaii error gave UCI match point advantage at 25-24; however, three consecutive kills from the Rainbow Wahine closed out the set as they won 27-25. Hawaii now led the game in sets, 2-1.
The fourth and final set of the match started off close. There was a sense of urgency from the Anteaters with phenomenal defense from Ofoegbu and Bertolone. The set was tied at nine each, but Hawaii’s defense helped push them on a run to lead 14-10. Umeh attempted to end the run with a kill to make it 14-11, but it was not enough.
The Rainbow Wahine continued their run and gained a five point advantage, forcing an Anteater timeout with the score at 18-13. The timeout could not stop Hawaii’s momentum as they maintained the upper hand with their dominant defense and aggressive attack on offense. Hawaii won the concluding set, 25-15.
The Anteaters played against a Hawaii team that was riding a five-game winning streak and is undefeated in conference play. Regardless, they remained competitive for three sets until ultimately falling apart in the fourth.
“We have the personnel now to compete with a team like [Hawaii] and be at the top of the conference … We played in the long rallies better and matched them a lot of times,” Hain said. “[In the fourth set,] our passing broke down a little bit and [Hawaii] did a better job of attacking our block … and taking bigger swings in transition.”
Despite the loss, Umeh was dominant in controlling the net and set a career high with seven blocks.
“I feel pretty good about that because we really work on blocking a lot in practice … Tonight we were able to execute. [Tonight was] an opportunity to grow as a team … and see what we need to get back to in practice,” Umeh said.
Looking ahead, the UCI Anteaters will be on the road to take on the Cal State Fullerton Titans in a Big West match up at Titan Gym on Friday, Oct. 15.
Angus Wong is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.