Cristina Maietta (no.10) bumps the ball to her teammate.
Cristina Maietta (no.10) bumps the ball to her teammate. Courtesy of Bri Chew/HIGHLANDER

UCR volleyball (5-11, 0-4) opened up its four-game Big West Conference homestand on Wednesday, Oct. 5 against Cal State Long Beach (12-7, 6-0). The Highlanders came out aggressive and sharp, taking the first set 25-21, but dropped the next three sets 25-11, 25-20 and 25-16. The loss comes after a grueling sweep at Hawai’i, capping off a rocky opening to conference play.

Despite the loss, the Highlanders showed grit and tenacity as they traded points all the way through the first set until tying at 20 apiece. The Highlanders broke the tie by forcing a Long Beach attack error and then got a kill from Megan Graham to go up two. Chelsea Doyle assisted Brooke Callahan, who was eight for nine on kill attempts in the first set, on back-to-back kills which set up set-point number one for the blue and gold. After a Long Beach State kill forced a second set-point for the Highlanders, Graham clinched the set with a kill.

Unfortunately, errors in the final three sets of the match did the Highlanders in. Riverside tallied a total of 24 errors on the night, compared to Long Beach’s 18. Most of UCR’s errors seemed to come in the second set as they fell behind 11-1 and were only able to manage 10 more points the rest of the set. The errors were particularly frustrating for the team as they occurred deep into long volleys the Highlanders created, only for them to result in Long Beach points.

The same problem plagued the Highlanders in Hawai’i as well, where they committed 27 errors compared to Hawaii’s 11. Head Coach Michelle Patton described the error total as “too much, we need that in single digits.” The loss in straight sets also marks the first time in two seasons the Highlanders were unable to take a set from Hawai’i while the Rainbow Wahine were ranked within the top 15.

Patton also believes some of the team’s miscues can be attributed to the fact that this team has a lot of young players on the floor. Coming into Wednesday’s game Patton wanted her squad to focus on slowing their opponent down and not letting them get into a rhythm. Patton asserted the Highlanders were “in and out of that (the game plan),” and need to focus on “getting back to their assignments.” The solution Patton offered for the Highlanders’ woes was execution, which was evident by their huddle-break “one, two, execute.” Execution will be paramount for the Highlanders moving forward to overcome the physical disadvantage — which Patton describes as “a team’s height and how high they play above the net” — that exists for this team within conference. Patton wants her squad to beat opponents in the mental game and force opponents out of their comfortable hitting spots and force errors.

The Highlanders should have the mental advantage in their next three matches since all three are home games. Patton asserted the homestand will “take some of the pressure off our players” as they take on UC Santa Barbara for their third home game of the season on Friday, Oct. 14 at 7 p.m.