Women's Volleyball Brushes Off West

    It’s the best in the West.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    The No. 4 Tritons head to Pensacola, Fla. on Nov. 16 to face off against No. 2 University of Minnesota-Duluth, which holds an impressive overall record of 30-3.

    After 18 consecutive victories, the last three in the NCAA Division II Pacific Regional Championship, the UCSD women’s volleyball team has established itself as the best team from the West with a 26-2 overall record and a new fourth-place ranking.

    “”[The girls] have a really good dynamic on and off the court,”” head coach Tom Black said. “”They have the same values and it’s one of [the] best teams I’ve ever coached.””

    After plowing its way through Western Washington University, No. 23 Cal State Los Angeles and No. 4 Cal State San Bernardino, UCSD advanced to the NCAA Division II quarterfinals against No. 2 University of Minnesota-Duluth Nov. 16 in Pensacola, Fla.

    Arash Keshmirian/Guardian
    Sophomore outside hitter Casey Wilson and her team pushed UCSD’s win streak to 18 for a 26-2 overall record, capturing the No. 1 spot in the Western region for the first time since 2001.

    “”We’re all super excited,”” senior captain and outside hitter Nicole Courtney said. “”We came up short last year and this was our goal this season. We had a strong second half of the season, and we beat Cal State San Bernardino when we needed to.””

    Fresh off a second-place finish in California Collegiate Athletic Association play, UCSD traveled to San Bernardino for the opening round of the Pacific Regional Championship against Western Washington University, and advanced to the semifinals.

    Junior outside hitter Rebecca Bailey led the way for the Tritons with a season-high 24 kills, followed by the double-double performances of Courtney and senior middle blocker Brianna Koche.

    The Tritons started off slow in game one but warmed up, taking the next three games.

    Cal State Los Angeles and UCSD split the season series with one win apiece, but neither game held as much meaning as the five-game thriller during the Pacific Regional semifinals.

    The Tritons overcame losses in the second and third games to take the win, 30-23, 28-30, 23-30, 30-24, 15-8.

    “”We were on the court and just said to one another that we would go down giving everything we had,”” Courtney said about being on the brink of elimination. “”There was a bit of senioritis on the floor with the four of us and we knew [Cal State Los Angeles] wouldn’t just roll over.””

    In the decisive fifth game, the Tritons performed like they’d been doing it all year.

    “”The team was very collected in that fifth game,”” Black said. “”We started off strong and they made some errors. We’ve trained a lot and we’ve played fifth games … and that experience and confidence is invaluable.””

    Cal State Los Angeles was forced into a timeout down 5-1, and then Courtney put the Tritons ahead, 8-2. The Golden Eagles then scored three straight after the teams switched sides, pulling within three. Down 10-5 and coming out of its second timeout of the game, Cal State Los Angeles committed three errors, giving UCSD a dominant 13-5 lead. Courtney and Koche sent down the final two kills, giving the Tritons the berth in the Pacific Regional final.

    In the final, UCSD faced Cal State San Bernardino, one of the two teams that defeated the Tritons this season.

    “”We knew Cal State San Bernardino was a good team and when we lost earlier in the season it was totally on our side of the net,”” Courtney said. “”We had more fire in us than they did in the third matchup.””

    Not only did the Tritons have more fire, but also more firepower, as it dismantled the Coyotes 30-24, 30-23, 20-30, 30-28.

    In game one, neither team could gain a clear advantage early, but five straight scores, capped by a Bailey and senior setter Kristin Halvorsen block, drew the Tritons ahead. The lead grew to 18-12 on a Courtney kill, and Bailey and Schmidt finished game one 30-24 for the Tritons with two kills.

    The Tritons kept the momentum, taking a 12-6 lead in game two. A pattern emerged with the Tritons battling the Coyotes until Bailey and Courtney put down back-to-back kills and freshman middle blocker Sylvia Schmidt sent down the final one for a 30-23 win.

    UCSD kept game three close, leading 11-10 early on. After nine total ties, Cal State San Bernardino took a 15-18 lead, and eventually finished the game 20-30.

    “”We knew what our game plan was and we just didn’t execute in that third game,”” Black said. “”I wasn’t concerned at all. It was just a matter of reiterating how we won the first two games.””

    The Tritons bounced back in the fourth game, scoring the first five. The Coyotes fought back, tying the game 6-6. UCSD then went on a 14-8 run that put the team up 20-12 and in good position to take the title.

    But that’s when Cal State San Bernardino showed why it held the then-fourth-place ranking. The Coyotes slowly chipped away at the nine-point Triton lead before tying the game at 26-26. They took the lead after a kill, but Koche returned a kill of her own, tying the game 27-27.

    After a Coyote service error, Halvorsen took the back line with game point riding on the serve. The serve cruised over with no doubt and the ball fell on the Cal State San Bernardino side after a joust at the net, sending the Tritons into a celebratory craze.

    “”I was a little nervous [in the fourth game] just because of what it meant to [the] team,”” Courtney said. “”But we were just there to play and we showed up and played and that’s all that matters.””

    The win sent the Tritons to Pensacola for the NCAA Division II National Championships to take on the winners of the other seven regional championships. It’s the first time since 2001 the team has made it this deep into the tournament.

    If this berth wasn’t enough, the Tritons have been bestowed with numerous individual honors along the way. Head coach Tom Black was named the Tachikara/AVCA Division II Pacific Region Coach of the Year and the CCAA Co-Coach of the Year.

    Also, Courtney was named the CCAA Most Valuable Player and Koche and Bailey joined her on the All-CCAA First Team. Halvorsen was named to the All-CCAA Second Team. The four were joined by junior libero Natalie Facchini on the Pacific Regional all-tournament team.

    “”I was really surprised to get the honor but it is as much mine as it is the team’s,”” Courtney said. “”I never would’ve gotten it without them.””

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