One of the most difficult aspects of college sports is replacing the production of star players who graduate. It is no different for UCR volleyball Head Coach Michelle Patton-Coleman, who is now faced with replacing the production of the program’s all-time digs leader Maddie Hubbell. Although replacing Hubbell’s defense is no small task for any one player, the fourth-year head coach has managed to fill that void by committee thus far in the 2017 season.
The Highlanders (8-8, 0-4) opened up the 2017 nonconference season with a strong 8-4 record, which Patton-Coleman attributes to improved physical conditioning and “Having some younger players who are ready to go in and make a difference.” Patton-Coleman credits her team’s desire to get better with every game as the reason this Highlander squad has played such solid defense all around. Despite the eight wins, seven of which only needing four or fewer sets, this team does not have a standout star. “We don’t have any superstars,” asserted Patton-Coleman, “But we do have a good group in the gym who want to get better themselves and make each other better.” Of course, some could say not having a go-to player is a hallmark of consistent errors, but for these Highlanders it’s a hallmark of every player being ready to have their number called on any given night.
For Patton-Coleman, this possibility is what allows multiple players to step up and produce at any time. Players such as sophomore outside hitter Mickayla Sherman and junior transfer Kaiulani Ahuna have both put up big offensive numbers this season, as they have consistently led the team in kills. Even freshman outside hitter Mikaela Groves has been able to produce quality offense for the Highlanders.
But it’s not just the young players who are making an impact; redshirt senior Fabiana Rosas has brought veteran on-the-court leadership since returning from a knee injury that kept her sidelined all of last season. Patton-Coleman also believes that not having a defined superstar keeps a positive amount of pressure on her team, especially her setters. “I think it puts a little pressure on the setters to find those people and get them hot and keep them hot and know who to go to in the right times.”
Unfortunately, the Highlanders have fallen into a five-game losing streak that includes three conference opponents: Long Beach State, Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara. Of those five matches, only the Cal Poly match was at home for the Highlanders while the other matches, much like most of this season’s matches, were on the road. However, Patton-Coleman does not believe the heavy traveling is a good enough excuse for the current skid, saying, “The grind is the grind for everybody. We talk about making no excuses and its conference (play), you gotta (sic) bump it up a notch.”
The Highlanders certainly had the opportunity to rise to the occasion on their home floor against Big West powerhouse Hawai’i (11-5, 5-0) on Saturday, Sept. 30. UCR took the first two sets against Hawai’i 25-20 and 25-19 before dropping the final three sets to the Rainbow Wahine in dominating fashion en route to a 3-2 match victory, extending the Highlanders’ losing streak to six.
Even in the midst of a tough losing streak, Patton-Coleman believes her team needs to simply execute their game plan consistently under pressure in order to turn the streak around. The Highlanders will have another opportunity to do so at home on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 4 p.m. against Cal State Fullerton (4-12, 0-4).