It was match point for UC Davis in the fourth set. No. 23 UC Irvine was serving. Hickey Gym was beginning to vibrate.
“[During] that last serve it felt like the crowd was getting louder and louder by the second,” said senior libero Avreeta Singh.
The raucous crowd of almost 800 silenced as the ball floated over the net. Sophomore outside hitter Kayla Varney proceeded to pound a cross-court kill for the win, giving the Aggies the upset of the nationally-ranked Anteaters on Friday. The victory moved UC Davis into sole possession of first place in the Big West Conference.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” Singh said. “There is nothing in the world that could feel better than this.”
“It feels amazing,” said senior setter Carson Lowden. “It is such a turnaround from anywhere we have ever been in my career.”
It sure has been a turnaround. UC Davis (17-7, 8-2), a team that two years ago only won four matches, is occupying first place in their league for the first time since 1996, when it belonged to the Division II Northern California Athletic Conference.
The Aggies gutted out the tough four-set match by scores of 25-22, 18-25, 25-17, 25-22.
Varney led the team with 15 kills while sophomore middle blocker Katie Denny, who had 10 kills on .412 hitting, couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
“I’m so glad we are finally succeeding, especially for our seniors because they have gone through so many hard times,” Denny said.
Lowden, one of the seniors, tossed up 47 assists while Singh, another senior, had 19 digs on the match.
With the effort, the Aggies moved their win streak to five. They had six more regular-season conference games remaining after knocking off the Anteaters.
You can bet they will be ready for them.
“We just have to keep working hard every day,” Denny said. “We can’t just settle for this.”
“With this team,” Singh said, “we are not satisfied more so because we know we are capable of making it to the tournament and keeping the position where we are.”
Head coach Jamie Holmes also wasn’t hesitant to display emotion after the defeat of a solid UC Irvine squad.
“I feel really proud of our entire team,” Holmes said. “The senior class put in their time. They have become a pivotal leadership core in the history of UC Davis. I am proud of the hard work they are putting in.”
The Aggies found out earlier in the week that they would be playing all their remaining home games in the friendly confines of Hickey Gym, something that they believe gives them a clear advantage.
“We packed the gym,” Denny said. “The energy was so awesome and we totally feed off of that.”
“Here we have such a huge home-court advantage,” Lowden said. “Not only can we affect the crowd by our energy, but they affect us so much.”
Holmes didn’t spare any words, either, when talking about the advantage of playing in Hickey Gym, saying her team is just used to being there, having done all of its preseason work and practices there.
After Friday night, the Aggies were excited – and for good reason.
But the job isn’t over yet as five more conference opponents stand in their way – after Saturday night’s win over UC Riverside – in addition to a possible NCAA postseason berth.
“All season long we have talked about having a mature demeanor,” Holmes said. “In other words, becoming veterans of the game. Part of doing that is not having super high-highs and super low-lows. Hopefully, you can maintain within an acceptable plain.”
Well, it looks like they’ve maintained that level of play. The Aggies swept UC Riverside on Saturday, improving to 9-2 in conference action.
After UC Davis beat Pacific for the first time in school history on Sept. 24, MAX ROSENBLUM said the volleyball team should play all its matches this season in Hickey Gym – before it was actually announced. While there is no actual documentation of this, he did say it. Tell him you believe him at firstname.lastname@example.org.