Photo Credits: QUINN SPOONER / AGGIE Caption: Outside hitter for UC Davis Lauren Matias (15, middle right) blocks a kill attempt by setter for UC Riverside Morgan Kline (29, middle left) at the September 29, 2019 game against UC Riverside at Davis, Calif.
Aggies look to continue run into heart of conference slate
Heading into the Sept. 29 game against UC Riverside, the UC Davis women’s volleyball team looked to regain last year’s impeccable form, which they displayed during a season-long, seven game win streak. The previous game against UC Irvine was the inaugural game of league play, with the two teams displaying how difficult it can be to win league games. Fortunately for the Aggies, they came out triumphant with a 3-2 victory.
In the nailbiter — in which Davis came from behind to win — senior outside hitter Lauren Matias finished with a match-high 18 kills on the night, propelling the Aggies to their first league victory of the year. The win was rejuvenating for the team, as they had lost the last three games of league play to end last season.
“I didn’t say too much,” said Head Coach Dan Conners about the comeback. “I talked to a couple of the leaders on the team and they were responsible for the change in the direction in that match. I tried to stay as consistent as I possibly could the entire match, reinforcing that we’re a good team, that we should believe in ourselves, and continue to focus on one point at a time, but credit that group for helping us turn the tide.”
Given that the Aggies were able to keep their composure throughout the entirety of a heated match with UC Irvine and prevail, it was unsurprising to many when the Aggies dismantled UC Riverside in the following game.
In the second set, UC Riverside called an immediate timeout after UC Davis jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead. But even after the break, the Highlanders continued to struggle to stop the Aggies as UC Riverside’s coach was forced to call the team’s second and final timeout of the set.
UC Davis was able to capitalize on the Highlanders’ distress, winning the second set 25-13 and later taking the third set 25-17 to complete the 3-0 match victory.
“We played very efficiently in that match,” Connors said. “I think that was a match in which we were able to stay very consistent with our style of play throughout the entire contest: high-pace, attacking, aggressive, putting a lot of pressure on opponents. I think that was nice to see. We’ve been able to do that at times, and then we have backed off. I thought it was nice to have a full match where we put forth that effort the entire time.”
The Aggies had their work cut out for them entering the weekend, with a double-header scheduled against UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly. Both teams had proven to be lethal this year, boasting impressive records throughout both non-league play and in league play thus far. Before Friday’s contest, UC Santa Barbara had posted a record of 13-1 throughout the first half of the season. The following day, the Aggies took on a Cal Poly team that went 10-5 in pre-season.
“It’s going to take being in the moment, being aggressive, playing our style, getting after it, pressuring them consistently throughout the match,” Connors said before the road trip. “Not letting distractions be at the surface when we’re performing. It’s about what we’re doing right now, in this moment, and staying in tune to that. I think every weekend we play is a big weekend, so what’s in front of us right now is the biggest weekend of the year.”
The two-game trip did indeed prove a challenge for the Aggies, as they were swept by UC Santa Barbara on Friday and then suffered a narrow 3-2 loss to Cal Poly on Saturday. After dropping the first two sets of the contest against the Mustangs, UC Davis battled back and won the next two to force a fifth set, but ultimately lost 15-10 in that final frame.
Despite the two-match skid, it has been a largely successful first 17 games for the Aggies, and Connors is optimistic about the squad’s chances going forward.
“We’re a very young, inexperienced team that is gaining experience and we are not where we want to be by any means,” Connors said. “I talked to the group earlier this season about when we’re going to peak, and it’s probably going to be the latter half of conference. So, to be playing the way that we are playing now is nice, but we’re ready for any bumps in the road that may come up and we’re going to continue to work to grow and get better.”
Of course, the success of any team comes down to its players performing on the court, and Connors sees the high potential that this year’s group possesses.
“Lauren [Matias] has done a really good job of just being that steady player on the floor for us and has been complimented by Jane [Seslar], who has been really solid for us,” Connor said. “As far as players emerging? Defensively, I think Josie [Ough] has really asserted herself, I think Mahalia [White] has done a great job of having a year off and coming back to find her groove, and both Leonie [Strehl] and Demari [Webb] have done a good job of stepping into the role that they’re playing.”
Connors also highlighted players who contributed to the depth of the team.
“Shira [Lahav] has become more comfortable in her role, running our passing line and our defensive effort,” Connors said. “Ally [Reyes] is an outstanding passer who has stepped in and Perri [Starkey] has emerged as a great passer and good defender, so it’s nice to have that deep bench and have some players you can go to.”
Essentially, Conners is more than pleased with his team and their chemistry, including their ability to work together and improve as a team.
“Our players who may not see a lot of time in matches are doing a great job of pushing the starters in practice and increasing the level in practice so that we are pushed to get better every day,” Connors said. “I think everybody has been really putting in a great effort to contribute to the product that we see on the floor during competitions. They’re doing a great job of supporting each other and supporting the direction we want to go.”
This season has been the best start the program has had since they started 16-1 in 2011 and the first undefeated opening games the team has had since 2012. UC Davis ranks among the top 50 teams in the NCAA in aces (No. 46 with 88), while sophomore middle blocker Josephine Ough ranks No. 47 in the nation at 1.25 blocks per set overall this year. Matias enters the week ranked among the top 100 hitters in the NCAA in points (No. 75), points per set (No. 89), and kills (No. 87), while ranking just outside the top 100 in kills per set (No. 102). Sophomore setter Jane Seslar enters the week ranked No. 40 in the nation with 529 assists and No. 71 with 9.98 assists per set.
UC Davis was picked to finish sixth in the race for the Big West Conference title according to a vote of head coaches, but this team has proven to be more than capable of proving them wrong.
Written by: AJ Seymour — firstname.lastname@example.org