Volleyball stays on top of CCAA

    UCSD’s women’s volleyball team capped off a strong week of California Collegiate Athletic Association action with a dramatic 3-2 home victory over defending CCAA champion California State University Los Angeles.

    Earlier in the week, the Tritons dismantled California State University Dominguez Hills 3-0 at RIMAC Arena.

    The latest victory was a big one for 23rd-ranked UCSD, which is 4-0 in the CCAA and 9-2 overall, and who had never beaten the Golden Eagles.

    “”[Beating Cal State L.A.] was a first for us,”” said Duncan McFarland, head Triton volleyball coach. “”It was nice to get that one. I thought we showed great character out there to stick with it and win in five games.””

    The Golden Eagles, who are 3-2 in the CCAA and 5-7 overall, built a quick 8-3 lead over UCSD. Cal State L.A. led early on thanks to junior setter Kristy Sain, who racked up a team-high 34 assists, and senior middle blocker Caryn Sale, who led the way for the Golden Eagles with 18 kills for the match.

    The Tritons trailed 20-13 before picking up a big side out and forcing Cal State L.A. to call a time out as the large UCSD crowd began to get into the game.

    Feeding off the passionate crowd, the Tritons rallied behind the freshman setter Teresa Ohta’s serve to pull within a point at 20-19.

    UCSD finally pulled into a tie at 23 apiece before taking its first lead of the match at 24-23. The Tritons would build a 26-24 lead, but the relentless Golden Eagles would not let the game go so easily.

    Cal State L.A. fought back to a 28-28 tie and looked to have control of the next point, but UCSD scrapped its way though the exchange, diving for near-kills and keeping the ball alive before taking the point and the 29-28 lead. This brought the crowd roaring to life, giving the Tritons the energy necessary to take the next point and the first game 30-28.

    Undaunted by the near-miss of the first game, the Golden Eagles again came out strong in the second game.

    Behind the strong hitting of Sale, Rachelle Nelson (16 kills for the match), Dione McCrea (15 kills) and Breanna Lee (11 kills), Cal State L.A. took a 10-5 early lead in the second game.

    UCSD found itself on the short end of a 20-13 score midway through the second game, a strikingly similar situation as in the first game.

    As with the first game, the Tritons mounted a comeback. This time it was led by the strong play of Kathleen Hentz, who would end up with game-highs of 20 kills and seven blocks, and Ohta, whose game-high 48 assists would be the key to UCSD’s comeback.

    Ohta also had eight kills in the match, unusual for a setter, by unexpectedly dinking the ball over the net on several occasions to surprise the Golden Eagles’ defenders.

    “”[Ohta] has a really good sense on when to drop that little shot over,”” McFarland said. “”It really keeps the opposing team off balance and opens up the rest of our offense. She did a good job of that tonight.””

    The Tritons pulled within three at 24-21 before the Golden Eagles pulled out to a 26-21 advantage and looked to have the second game in their pockets.

    UCSD would not go down quietly, as the fans fueled a comeback that knotted the score at 27. The teams then traded points until Cal State L.A. was finally able to string two in a row and take the second game by a final score of 32-30.

    McFarland was worried about how his team would respond to the letdown.

    “”We had a few missed opportunities there,”” McFarland said. “”Something like that can really turn a team down, but we hung in there. This game was like a roller coaster for us. It had its ups and downs.””

    In the third game, the Tritons took a quick 12-5 lead and never looked back.

    The crowd was fired up as UCSD grabbed the third game 30-20.

    Down but not out, the Golden Eagles fought back and managed to take the fourth game 30-23, tying the match at two games apiece and setting up the decisive fifth game.

    The Tritons took an early 7-3 lead in the final game and looked to have things sewn up, but Cal State L.A. called a time-out and poised itself for one final push.

    After surrendering three unanswered points and watching its lead dwindle to two at 8-6, UCSD again looked to the crowd for support. Again, the crowd responded by supplying the emotional energy.

    The Tritons would not allow another point in the match as they gelled perfectly and took the final game 15-6, winning the match three games to two.

    According to McFarland, the crowd made all the difference.

    “”The fans were huge today,”” he said. “”They decided this match. They really kept our spirits up out there. I don’t know if we could have gone into the fifth game in their [Cal State L.A.’s] gym and pulled it out with their hostile crowd.””

    Also contributing to the Triton attack was Laura Santerre and Ashley Peterson, who each had 11 kills. Peterson added six blocks for UCSD.

    In the other match, the Tritons overpowered CCAA-rival Cal State Dominguez Hills, which entered the contest at 1-3 in the CCAA and 1-9 overall.

    It was the first match that either school had played since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to the cancellation of CCAA action for a week.

    McFarland had worried that it might be tough to focus his players for the game.

    “”I was actually really worried about how the players would respond to all of this,”” he said. “”It was on everyone’s minds. We talked about it a lot as a team and just tried to move on and focus on the game. I was very impressed with the way we responded in this difficult time.””

    After shaking off some early rust from not competing in over a week-and-a-half, UCSD gelled as a team and took it to the Toros.

    “”This was a tough game for us,”” said Cal State Dominguez Hills head coach Ali Wood. “”UCSD is always a consistent team. They are tough to beat. We have had a lot of injuries early, so we haven’t really had the chance to come together as a team. We are still immature.””

    The Tritons took the first two games with final scores of 30-16 and 30-12, respectively.

    “”We had a good start,”” Ohta said. “”We knew that it was going to be tough because we hadn’t played in a while, but we picked up the energy and never got down on each other.””

    Cal State Dominguez Hills attempted to make a run at UCSD’s second team in the third game, but even the Tritons’ second team proved to be too much for the Toros and they closed out a 30-23 win.

    “”The whole team came out strong,”” said freshman outside hitter Stacy Dunsmore. “”We got the job done.””

    The Tritons were led by Ohta’s match-high 28 assists, Santerre’s match-high 11 kills, Ashley Peterson’s seven kills and six kills apiece from Hentz and Dunsmore.

    Dunsmore added six digs, two service aces and a block to gain the attention of McFarland.

    “”[Dunsmore] had a very good night,”” he said. “”Her ball control was great and she was solid in all phases of the game.””

    UCSD now begins a tough road trip that includes games at Grand Canyon University, Cal Poly Pomona, top-ranked California State San Bernardino, Chico State and UC Davis.

    The Tritons will be hitting the road for the next five games against Grand Canyon, Cal Poly, CSU San Bernadino, Chico State and UC Davis, and will be back in action at home Oct. 12 against San Francisco State.

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