Volleyball breaks losing streak before falling again over weekend

Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER
Vincent Ta/HIGHLANDER

 

October 23, 2015

Highlanders 3 – Aggies 2

Prior to Friday’s match against UC Davis, I must say I held my fair share of doubts about UC Riverside volleyball’s ability to pull out a win. I can safely say I was not alone in this thought. After all, the group had won a mere two of their previous 10 matches and entered the UCR gym Friday evening after dropping eight straight. The outlook seemed bleak yet, as is the case with any fanbase, an underlying optimism was prevalent throughout the building Friday night.

This was tested early on, however, as after leading early, the Highlanders dropped the first set to the Aggies, 21-25. Another early hole seemed a precursor for UCR’s next crushing loss at this juncture, however, the team — and hopes — prevailed as they rallied for six of seven points in the second set to take a 14-12 lead before ultimately taking the set, 25-21. It should be duly noted that the win in the second came in a fashion more dominant than the box score would attest as after that six-point rally, UC Davis looked to slow the Highlanders’ incoming onslaught with an abrupt timeout. This attempt was countered with another rally from the blue and gold (this time scoring 10 of the next 15), ultimately earning them the set and, more importantly, the momentum.

Whoever held such momentum proved to be a key factor throughout the rest of what become a gut-wrenching match. UCR continued to show steady in the third, in which they handedly won, 23-15 and then subsequently ended their run of dominance after dropping the fourth, 23-25, thanks to four consecutive errors.

This all culminated into one, gut-wrenching fifth set between the conference foes in which every mistake proved crucial, momentum swung to pendulum-level extremities and each point found fans on the edge of the rows.

The teams traded blows early in the fifth, eventually tying the set at 7-7. Once the Highlanders rattled off a three-point run to take the 10-7 advantage, the Aggies responded with four consecutive points of their own to make it 11-10. As it seemed, no team was going to hold the true advantage in this one, as this pattern recurred throughout the set. A 14-13 lead for Davis here, followed by a 15-14 lead for UCR just moments later. To little surprise, it was another one-point margin near the end of the match before the Highlanders ultimately closed out with a win.

Leading 18-17, while Alex Gresham was serving for the blue and gold, it was her game-saving dig which proved heroic in the end. After Gresham dived in front of the net to keep the ball in play after a softly-tipped Davis shot, Chelsea Doyle set up Fabian Rosas, whose kill capped off the team’s most exciting game of the season on a positive note, earning the Highlanders their first victory since September 25.

 

October 24, 2015

Anteaters 3 – Highlanders 0

It is often difficult to properly follow an exhausting performance such as Friday’s win. Let alone when your next match is being held just a few hours after such, versus a rival team in UC Irvine. In fact, given these circumstances, it seemed nearly impossible for the UC Riverside women’s volleyball team to play anywhere near the caliber they did on Friday. And despite any remaining momentum, the team failed to pull off another minor miracle after dropping a 3-0 home loss to UCI Saturday evening.

Toss it up to a post-victory “hangover” or general fatigue, but the Anteaters flat-out looked like the better — or, at least, more energized — team of the night. The Highlanders failed to hold onto any leads throughout the match as their 21-21 tie in the first set was quickly negated by an eventual 21-25 loss. As was their 6-0 run early in the second which was surpassed by the Anteaters’ 12-3 run of their own and a seemingly stable 16-13 lead in the third that was once again answered by an Anteater rally to take control of the set for good.

Needless to say, the Highlanders dropping three straight sets pretty effortlessly is quite disappointing, especially when considering the toughness they appeared to display on Friday. It seemed they had turned a new page.

In cases such as these, fatigue can certainly play a factor and it will be worth monitoring whether or not the team looks reenergized come their next match, September 30 at Hawai’i (10 p.m.).

Nevertheless, for now the Highlanders once again look to put a tough loss behind them, knowing that, at the same time, their record won’t be able to. Currently slotted at 7-15 overall and 2-7 in conference at time of writing, there is little-to-no chance of the team competing for a conference title. Of course, the improbable does not always equate to the impossible, but at this stage, the Highlanders must look to prioritize marginal goals.

Building some semblance of consistency as they begin to wrap up what has been an incredibly up-and-down season would be among those. With seven games remaining on the schedule — all of which are inter-conference — there is a sliver of opportunity for volleyball to end the season with a winning record against Big West opponents and potentially inch their overall record closer to .500. If one had said at the start of the year that this would be UCR’s goal come season’s end, they would be assuming a huge letdown for the team.

And perhaps it is. However, it is equally true that accepting their current fate and experiencing such growing pains could potentially lead UCR volleyball to greater success once leaders such as sophomores Alex Gresham and Maddie Hubbell develop down the road. The 2015 season has been a cruel one for UC Riverside volleyball thus far, but ending the remaining games on a positive note can — at the very least — provide the team with optimism going into next season.

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