At the end of the match, it wasn’t about the win.
It wasn’t about the sixth fifth-set loss for the Aggies.
It wasn’t even about the four point lead UC Davis had in the final set.
In the end, it was about the seniors. After the tough loss, UC Davis honored its three seniors – Kayla Varney, Melanie Adams and Ester Hon.
Despite missing the final two games with a knee injury, Varney was a defensive catalyst. She finished her Aggie career second all-time in digs with 1,562.
Coach Jamie Holmes described Adams as the “model of what we want.” Adams was a consistent force for the Aggies this season, finishing close to the top in nearly every offense category.
Hon, a senior walk-on, didn’t get much playing time in her one season at UC Davis, but nonetheless, Holmes was proud of what she brought to the team.
“I want to thank all our seniors,” Holmes said. “Their contributions really have been so great to our program. I think they’ve brought a lot to the transition and buying what we’re selling. We’re going to miss them.”
Despite the emotion, there was still a game to be played.
UC Davis came back from an 8-3 first set deficit to take the opening game 25-22.
The Tigers wouldn’t let the Aggies rally in the second set, taking it 25-21.
The two squads traded the third and fourth set to force the decisive fifth. The Aggies jumped out to 6-2 lead, but the Tigers won the next seven points to take the game and match.
“I thought both teams played a little bit flat,” Holmes said. “It’s that time of the year when both teams are a little bit tired and the emotions carry a squad. Nonetheless, there were some fantastic rallies and without question, both teams really wanted it.”
With the loss, UC Davis closes out the season 16-12 and 7-9 in Big West Conference play. It was the second straight winning season for the Aggies, and the second under Holmes. UC Davis finished 4-6 in five-set matches, something Holmes attributes to the youth on the roster.
“I think our youth comes out in the close matches,” Holmes said. “With that youthfulness, there is a lot of excitement for the foundation of our program. Knowing that we can go to the fifth and be right in there for every match is really encouraging for me thinking about spring.”
UC Davis will be returning 12 players next year, including setter Jenny Woolway, middle blocker Betsy Sedlak and outside hitter Allison Whitson.
Woolway finished the season first in the Big West in total assists. Sedlak closed out the year with a .399 hitting percentage, good for tops in league and 15th in the nation. Whitson led the team in total kills with 377, good for fifth in the Big West.
“Experience will help us next year, no question. That’s where things get exciting,” Holmes said. “We’ve had so many games go to five and we’ve been right there every time. We’ll get spring training under our belts and a little bit maturity at some positions and that’s super encouraging for next year.”
JASON ALPERT can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.