Nov. 22, 2013

Highlanders 3 – Mustangs 2

A season full of heartache experienced one night of blissfully sweet enjoyment. The women’s volleyball team, who was 1-25 on the year and dipping into the pond of mediocrity, earned their first Big West Conference victory of the season with a five-set win over Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 14-25, 26-24, 25-23, 15-25, 15-9.

For the season, the Highlanders have struggled against just about every team. Some nights they were simply outplayed, while on others, the squad couldn’t string together consistent points after putting themselves in position to win. On Friday night, the match seemed to be headed for yet another loss. UCR dropped the opening set (25-14) and let a 17-12 lead in the second set evaporate. Knotted at 24 apiece, the Highlanders did something they struggled to do all season: win the pressure points. Senior Annishia McKoy slapped a kill over the net before a block assist by Ashley Cox and Lindsay Hornsby gave UC Riverside not only the set, 26-24, but also a confidence that would prove pivotal for the game.

Late into the third period, the Highlanders again faced a tightly contested phase of the match as both teams combined for 14 tied scores. Tied at 23-23, Tyler Dorsey came through in the clutch as a crafty pass from Nae Bender converted into a powerhouse kill and another set point. Fueling from hustle, UCR secured the third set, 25-23, behind another block assist.

The Mustangs, who are 11-5 (5-8) on the season, responded in the fourth set. Cal Poly won six consecutive points in the middle of the period to pull ahead 16-6 before sending the match into a fifth set, 25-15.

It all came down to the fifth and final set. With pressure mounting and the crowd roaring, UC Riverside did not stumble as the squad turned a 5-4 advantage into 10-4 lead. Minutes later the Highlanders finally corralled their first conference win after a kill from Cox, 15-9.

Both Cox and McKoy tied their season highs with 22 and 13 kills, respectively. Dorsey led the team with six blocks while Maddie Hubbell tallied 23 digs. UC Riverside was outplayed statistically as the Mustangs recorded more aces, kills, digs and boasted a higher attack percentage. The key, however, was the better form UCR showed during the latter stages of each set.

Nov. 23, 2013

Gauchos 3 – Highlanders 0

The Highlanders plummeted back to Earth on Saturday night. After winning their first conference game of the season, the UC Riverside women’s volleyball team didn’t win a set in the following game, en route to a straight set loss to UC Santa Barbara 25-16, 25-13, 25-15.

From first serve to last error, the Highlanders were left in the Gauchos’ dust. The front line of UCR played well at the outset of the match, recording four blocks as the Highlanders kept the score close at 9-9. Eventually, UC Santa Barbara, who won 12 of its last 13 games, crushed the Highlanders from every area of the court as the team ran away with the first set, 25-16, and eventually all three sets in a regimented fashion.

Lacking energy and only hitting an insipid .022 for the match, UCR was simply overpowered and outclassed by a team tied with Cal State Northridge for first place in the conference. The Gauchos finished the second set with a blistering .583 hitting percentage while the Highlanders had a negative percentage heading into the third set. Santa Barbara doubled UC Riverside in the kills category (42-21) and tallied five service aces to one.

Annishia McKoy, who is one of two seniors graduating this season along with Jessica Moncayo, recorded six kills on the evening while Tyler Dorsey followed behind with four kills. Ashley Cox, who amassed a season-high in kills against Cal Poly, only added four successful attacks against nine errors.

UCR (2-25, 1-14) returns home for its final match of the season against nationally ranked Hawaii on Nov. 29. The Highlanders will celebrate senior night before the game.