UC San Diego women’s volleyball, like many of the school’s Division-II programs, will begin transitioning into Division I beginning next season. Their battles with Division-I opponents, however, didn’t wait another year. Instead it began on Thursday, August 20, as the Tritons fell 3–1 to the California State University, Fullerton Titans in UCSD’s first action of the new season.
After taking the first set 25–18, the team struggled to remain in control thanks to a .102 attack percentage, compared to a .189 attack percentage by Fullerton State. Ultimately, the Tritons dropped the next two sets 19–25, heading into the fourth set needing to win to continue the match. Despite 9 errors in the final set, UCSD kept things close with their future Big West opponent, losing the final set 24–26.
“We treated it like a scrimmage and as a chance to see all the players,” said head coach Ricci Luyties. “I changed the line up every game to try new combinations and see how the new players would do.”
Senior middle back Jessica Rieble and junior outside hitter Gina Cortesi, two of last season’s standouts, returned to action in the match. Cortesi led all Tritons with 15 kills in her 2019 debut, while Rieble dropped 5 kills in hers.
But outside of the returning leaders, one newcomer found the spotlight. Sophomore outside hitter Trinity Castaneda, a University of Hawaii transfer student, had her hands all over the offense with the second most attack attempts after Cortesi, though her hit percentage was slightly less than desirable.
“Rieble is playing great and will be a force in the middle. She’s improved every year and is looking strong,” said Luyties. “I also see Cortesi and Castaneda playing a big role.”
This match had larger implications than just being a scrimmage though. The Tritons will be playing Cal State Fullerton once they enter the Big West conference in 2020. Despite this being a big step for the program, it impacts both the importance of this season and the importance of quality recruiting.
For starters, this season is the last chance for many of these players to make a run at the playoffs in their college careers, as beginning in 2020, the Tritons will not be eligible to compete in the NCAA playoffs for any of their newly-christened Division-I programs. This makes this season, the program’s last in Division II, even more important.
“There’s always pressure to win here because we have a great athletic program but we also want to end our DII run on a good note,” said Luyties.
But beyond the pressure to win this season, the real pressure falls on recruiting, as some players will be turned away when they are denied the ability to make the playoffs. Coach Luyties said that’s something his program has already started to feel.
“We’ve lost some recruits that were concerned with the fact that we can’t be in playoffs,” said Luyties, “but now we’re looking at the younger classes that will at least have the opportunity to play in the postseason their senior year … We’ll see if it continues to be an issue.”
Regardless of potential recruiting difficulties, the Tritons were still able to add some solid transfers for this season, including Castaneda from Hawaii, junior Emily Hubbard from the University of Tulsa, and junior Isabela Dobra from Romania, who is still awaiting her visa.
“It’s sometimes hard for transfers to feel like they’re a part of an established team but our players have been really welcoming to everyone,” said Luyties. “I feel like you have to adapt a system to your players more than fitting them into our system.”
With a roster of upperclassmen and transfers integrated together, coach Luyties and the Tritons will continue to prepare to head into September’s UAA Invitational tournament in Anchorage, Alaska ready for action. Game 1 of that tournament for UCSD will come against the Concord University Mountain Lions on Friday, September 6.