Photo by New University/Josh Cain

The UC Irvine’s Women’s Volleyball team (13-7, 6-4) beat the Cal Poly Mustangs (9-12, 7-3), 3-0, at the Cal Poly SLO Mott Athletics Center on Saturday, Oct. 23. Coming off a 3-2 loss against CSU Bakersfield on Friday, Oct. 22, UCI was determined to showcase their ability and beat the Mustangs for the first time since 2014.

Cal Poly started off in the first set with a kill from junior middle blocker Meredith Phillips and scoring from an attack error by Irvine freshman outside hitter Marianna Bertolone. However, UCI’s Big West Offensive Player of the Week and sophomore outside hitter Joy Umeh responded with two kills, tying the score 2-2.

Points were then traded back and forth between the two teams until the Anteaters quickly found their rhythm and pulled ahead. Kills from Irvine sophomore middle blocker Onye Ofoegbu and Irvine freshman opposite Ellen Veargason, along with errors from the Mustangs, placed UCI at a 9-6 lead; Ofoegbu scored five of UCI’s nine points. 

Cal Poly fought back, scoring points off of Irvine’s attack errors and kills from Phillips, junior setter Avalon DeNecochea, redshirt freshman middle blocker Kate Slack and redshirt freshman outside hitter Amy Hiatt. 

Cal Poly led 15-11; however, UCI’s offense-fueled momentum, as well as the Mustangs’ numerous unforced errors, led to an Anteater victory in the first set, 25-18.

The second set kicked off with a strong rally on both sides. UCI pulled through 1-0 on a ball-handling error by Cal Poly redshirt freshman outside hitter Tommi Stockham. The Anteaters wasted no time capitalizing on the error, getting ahead, 4-0, with kills from Umeh and a service ace by freshman libero Carly Richter.

Phillips, assisted by DeNecochea, scored a right pin to put Cal Poly on the board, 1-4. Stockham picked up the first big kill for Cal Poly from the back row while also scoring three in a row, bringing the score to 8-11. The two teams exchanged points until a kill from Hiatt brought the Anteaters and the Mustangs to a tie at 14 points each. A kill from Umeh broke the tie after a lengthy play.

UCI’s continuous defense and offense put Cal Poly in a difficult position. With a slower tempo, the Anteaters caught the Mustangs out of rhythm. The second set was closed out with an attack error from Cal Poly, making the set score 25-22 and the game score 2-0.

In the previous match, UCI also led the game 2-0 before fumbling the lead and losing the match, 2-3. However, they were determined to finish strong. 

The third set of the match was highly competitive. Cal Poly’s refused to get swept on their homecourt, putting up a challenge for the Anteaters. Both teams exchanged kills until they were even at four. Then, an aggressive Umeh emerged to get three kills for UCI, giving the ‘Eaters some breathing room.

UCI maintained their cushion until the score was 11-9. Soon, however, the Mustangs scored four unanswered points after an ace from Cal Poly’s sophomore libero/defensive specialist Grace King, a kill from Hiatt and two UCI attack errors. Cal Poly now held the lead at 13-11.

The Anteaters were unphased and continued their play with disciplined passing, taking opportune swings in transition. An ace by Richter and kills from Umeh and Irvine freshman outside hitter Grace Colburn put UCI in the lead, 15-14.

Both teams proceeded with their intense battle. With the score at 20-20, a controversial four-touch call gave UCI the lead at 21-20 as the Cal Poly crowd erupted in boos. The Mustangs did not let this officiating error rattle them as they kept fighting back to extend the match.

Two kills from Hiatt and a kill from Stockham gave Cal Poly a match point advantage at 24-22; however, two Mustang errors and a kill from Umeh gave the ‘Eaters the lead at 25-24. 

Kills were exchanged until the Mustangs were on the brink of forcing a fourth set, leading 30-29. The crowd was ready for Cal Poly to win the set, but they were ultimately disappointed.

Rather than allowing extra sets, UCI sprinted towards the finish despite the Mustangs’ perseverance. Irvine sophomore setter Kelly Negron set Umeh up for a match-tying kill at 30. Then, Colburn made back-to-back kills to put away the Mustangs, 32-30. 

UCI swept Cal Poly in sets, 3-0. Umeh once again led the Anteaters with 20 kills. 

“Today was a new day for us and we all felt that. We made sure to emphasize the importance of every single point right from the beginning because we did not want a repeat of last night,” Umeh said. 

The UCI Anteaters will face the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos as they look to defend the Bren in a Big West matchup on Friday, Oct. 29.

Harleen Thandi is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at hthandi@uci.edu.

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