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UCI Women’s Volleyball Remains Undefeated After Beating LBSU in Their Black and Blue Rivalry, 3-2 

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UCI Women’s Volleyball Remains Undefeated After Beating LBSU in Their Black and Blue Rivalry, 3-2 

The UC Irvine Women’s Volleyball team (12-6, 5-3) outlasted Long Beach State (9-10, 3-5) in a 3-2 match (19-25, 25-21, 21-25, 25-21, 15-10) at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, Oct. 16, putting Irvine up 4-0 in the Black and Blue Rivalry Series.

Set one started off close; however, UCI sophomore outside hitter Joy Umeh made her presence known early by scoring the first two kills for the Anteaters. From then on, multiple errors along with an aggressive LBSU offense led to the Beach jumping out to a 11-4 lead.

After UCI head coach Ashlie Hain’s time-out, the Anteaters appeared to be focused with freshman outside hitter Marianna Bertolone scoring back-to-back kills for UCI. Meanwhile, sophomore setter Kelly Negron set up Umeh for yet another kill. The Anteaters closed the gap, 7-11.

It was an uphill battle for UCI as they exchanged kills with Long Beach but never finished closing the margin. The Anteaters eventually reduced their deficit, 13-16, after back-to-back big time blocks from UCI’s sophomore middle blocker Onye Ofoegbu and freshman opposite hitter Ellen Veargason. 

Ofoegbu and Veargason walled up against LBSU’s offense; however, it was not enough as the Beach pulled away to win the set, 19-25.

In the second set, UCI hoped to correct some of the mistakes that plagued them in the first set and came out on fire. Irvine scored five kills — Negron setting up four of them — before the Beach finally obtained their first point after a blocking error by UCI. 

After being up 5-1, UCI made multiple critical mistakes. Long Beach got back in the game after several attacking and blocking errors by the ‘Eaters. The Beach got within two points at 15-13 until a punishing spike by Umeh added extra cushion to the UCI lead.

To combat the Anteaters’ solid front row, the Beach used soft tips to get the ball over the net for kills rather than aggressive spikes. With this strategy, they tied it up at 17. The two teams exchanged kills; however, a service error along with blocks from Bertolone and UCI freshman middle blocker Soana Leaea forced a Long Beach time-out with the score at 22-19.

The time-out would not help the Beach, as UCI closed out the set 25-20.

The third set commenced with Umeh scoring the first two kills for UCI while Long Beach would match. They tied each other four times, with back-to-back errors by UCI. This gave the Beach a 10-8 lead.

LBSU would not relinquish this lead despite valiant offensive efforts by Umeh and the front row presence of Bertolone and Veargason. The combination of soft tips, UCI errors and strategic passing prevented the Anteaters from recapturing the lead. Long Beach’s front row defense capitalized and won the set. The Beach led in sets, 1-2.

Close to victory, the Beach came out with intensity, firing three spikes in a row. The ‘Eaters did not back down on their homecourt and caught up to their crosstown foes and continued to exchange kills. 

UCI found themselves down 10-12 and caught a break with a bad serve by the Beach. The Anteaters regained the lead at 14-13 after three kills by Umeh and an ace from Negron. UCI freshman libero Carly Richter was active in this set by aiding the team with crucial digs, which set up kills for her teammates. 

A spike by Anteater freshman outside hitter Grace Colburn and a front row anchored by the vertical presence of Ofoegbu and Veargason gave UCI the biggest lead of the set at 22-17. Long Beach attempted to crawl back into the set but was met with resistance by a UCI team refusing to lose on their homecourt. An emphatic Veargason spike tied the match in sets, forcing a fifth.

Heading into the fifth set, there was a lot of tension that translated onto the court. Both teams exchanged spikes and stuffed each other at the net, reaching a tie at seven apiece. A sense of urgency emerged in Umeh as she dished out three spikes in a row to give the Anteaters some breathing room.

Umeh’s heroics gave life to the team and UCI came out firing on all cylinders. Two attack errors from the Beach along with an ace by Negron and a front row kill by Leaea made it match point with a comfortable lead at 14-7. 

Long Beach finally moved the ball past the Anteaters’ front row for three consecutive scores, but it was too late as a kill by Umeh put UCI on top. UCI won in sets, 3-2.

After dropping back-to-back matches, this was an encouraging sight for the women’s volleyball team composed of mostly freshmen and sophomores.

“There’s a lot of times when we are hesitant and timid. We play better when we are confident and having fun,” Umeh said.

In addition to getting the win, Umeh put on another dominant performance and after setting her career high in blocks last weekend, she set another career high for kills with 26.

“I really can’t do it without the team,” Umeh said. “From the pass to my setter Negron … it’s a team effort there so I thank them for backing me up.”

Moving forward, the UCI Anteaters will be on the road to take on the CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners in a Big West matchup at the Icardo Center on Friday, Oct. 22. 

Angus Wong is a Sports Intern for the fall 2021 quarter.  He can be reached at anguscw@uci.edu.