Aggies more confident in Big West chances
After a two-week road campaign in which UC Davis women’s volleyball lost three of four matches, the team returned to Davis to beat UC Riverside last Thursday in a closely contested five set match, 3-2, before cruising to a straight set victory against California State Fullerton, 3-0, on Saturday.
With this, the Aggies finished the first half of conference play 11-9 overall and 3-5 in Big West play. Head Coach Dan Conners said this is a positive development given the Aggies’ shaky start to conference play.
“I think we’re a really good team and we weren’t playing up to the level we are capable of,” Conners said. “This weekend gives us the belief that we’ll continue to perform at that level.”
The Aggies dropped the first two sets to UC Riverside by a margin of three points, 25-22.
Facing a potential loss, the Aggies found their groove in the third set after a series of UC Riverside attack errors off blocks from junior opposite Nicola Moore, freshman middle blocker Josie Ough and senior outside hitter Brianna Karsseboom, 5-1. The Aggie defense hamstrung the UC Riverside attack to a .026 average.
Redshirt freshman opposite Leonie Strehl hit a perfect five kills out of five attempts in the third set. Strehl believes it wasn’t so much a change in momentum, but rather a matter of the team syncing up.
“I think we just tried to get our mind set on the same page, we weren’t playing bad volleyball,” Strehl said. “Communication is key for us, we just played our game and stayed calm, when we stay calm and focused everyone does their job and we all come together.”
Moore swung 10 times and landed seven kills for an average of .700 in the fourth set. She landed more than half of her kill attempts at .519 for the match, a career high for the junior who was forced to sit out her 2016 and 2017 seasons due to injury.
For Strehl, a .333 hitting average was also a career high. After a redshirt season last year, Strehl felt comfortable with her role.
“After my redshirt season last year with a lot of growth and learning,I can really feel that all the hard work is really paying off,” Strehl said. “It’s exciting to connect with the team and finally be able to make a difference on the court.”
The Aggies were able to carry their aggressive play over to Saturday’s match against Cal State Fullerton; they took the match in straight sets without much pushback from the Titans, who fell to 6-14 overall and 0-6 in Big West Conference play.
UC Davis volleyball uses a three-setter system, according to sophomore setter Paloma Bowman. Senior setter Maddie Merlino did not play in either game. When asked why, Conners noted he could not comment on the matter. Without Merlino, the team relied on setting from Bowman and freshman setter Jane Seslar.
“There’s a lot of rotation, and if you don’t perform, you’re getting taken out. Now there isn’t that space for someone to get taken out, so you have to perform,” Bowman said.
Bowman said Merlino’s absence on the court raised the stakes, but hasn’t had too much of an impact on the team.
“So there’s a little more pressure, but I don’t think it changes the dynamic much. There’s just a different type of urgency, you have to perform all the time,” she said.
Bowman felt confident that the team worked out its kinks and believes the team is ready to move out of the sluggish start of Big West Conference play.
“It feels good, I think there’s just so many things that you have to work out in terms of chemistry, and I think we were finally able to do that this week,” Bowman said.
Moving forward, Karsseboom has a game plan for the second half of conference play and thinks the Aggies will be better prepared.
“I think we’re going to have a really aggressive mentality going into the second half, since we have played these teams before, we know what they do and what they’re capable of,” Karsseboom said.
UC Davis will face UC Irvine on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Pavilion. The Anteaters, ranked No. 2 in the conference, beat the Aggies in straight sets last month and held the Aggie hitting average to .040.
Written by: Bobby John — firstname.lastname@example.org