Tritons Blow Two-Game Lead

    The women’s volleyball team has become very accustomed to
    playing five-game matches during the recent weeks, and as winners of four of
    their last five five-game regular season contests, the Tritons were prepared
    for the pressures of the NCAA Division II Pacific Regional.

    Senior setter Kim Adams (left), junior outside hitter Kimberly Carpenter (middle) and junior middle blocker Hannah Gary led UCSD to many wins but couldn’t finish off Western Washington University.
    (Sanh Luong/Guardian)

    As the No. 3 seed, UCSD took care of No. 6 Northwest
    Nazarene University on Nov. 15 in the opening round 23-30, 30-25, 30-25, 26-30,
    15-13. Fresh off another five-game melee, the Tritons forged ahead with
    thoughts of a return to the NCAA Division II finals, but No. 2 Western
    Washington University gave UCSD a taste of its own medicine, ending the
    Tritons’ title hopes 23-30, 26-30, 30-21, 30-26, 15-13.

    Against Northwest
    Nazarene University
    UCSD held leads in games one and four, squandering both with crucial late errors.
    In game one, the Tritons led 21-20 before the Crusaders went on a 9-2 run to
    take the game. Junior outside hitter Rebecca Bailey led UCSD in games two and
    three, overpowering the Northwest Nazarene defense and scoring 12 of her 30
    kills during the two games.

    Game four was tied at 24-24 before a pair of service errors
    handed the Crusaders the game and forced a fifth. In the final game, UCSD
    jumped to a 4-2 lead after another Bailey kill. The lead was stretched to 13-10
    when the Crusaders made one last stand. A Nazarene kill and Triton hitting
    error later, UCSD called a timeout.

    “I just tried to keep them calm,” head coach Tom Black said.
    “My main goal was to keep them focused on the task at hand and not let their
    minds get too far ahead.”

    UCSD came out sharp and did what it had done all season: win
    game five. Bailey tallied another kill, and senior opposite Amber Ries finished
    off the match. It wasn’t a pretty win, but come playoffs, a win is all that
    matters to move on to the next round.

    “That was the best game someone’s played against us all year
    and we still found a way to win,” Black said. “Our serving was nonexistent but
    our passing and hitting was great. It’s really a testament to the character of
    these girls and shows how committed they are.”

    So used to being on the winning side of five game matches,
    the UCSD players found themselves in a different position on Nov. 16. The Great
    Northwest Athletic Conference champion Western Washington University looked
    vulnerable in games one and two as the Tritons played solid volleyball to take
    a 2-0 lead. In game one, UCSD built a 26-16 lead behind the serving and hitting
    of sophomore middle blocker Sylvia Schmidt, who recorded five aces in the first
    game in addition to her five kills.

    Game two saw much tighter competition, with the Vikings
    taking the early lead but the Tritons coming back to storm ahead 22-15. UCSD
    then found itself in a dogfight late, as Western Washington University pulled
    within one point to 25-24. Bailey got the offense powered up again with a pair
    of kills to give the Tritons a commanding lead.

    There is no explicit reason for the Tritons’ late-game
    collapse. Maybe UCSD ran out of gas from playing so many five-game matches
    during the past week; maybe they lost focus holding such a big lead. Or maybe
    the Vikings decided to play the kind of volleyball that earned them a
    conference championship and a No. 2 seed.

    Black was surprised at the momentum shift and said the
    Tritons had played well in the first two games.

    “I was feeling pretty good after those first two games,”
    Black said. “They were two of the best games we have played all season. We
    executed our game plan but I think our mentality changed and we began playing
    on our heels.”

    Whatever the case, Western Washington came alive during
    games three and four, nursing its early leads for wins. It used an 11-3 run to
    close out game three after the Tritons had pulled close, trailing 18-20. In
    game four, it was UCSD that made a run to try to steal the game, but the
    Tritons faltered and came up short.

    Once again in a decisive game five situation, the Tritons
    were confident that they could rebound from two poor games to take the match.
    Early on, it looked like they would do just that when they took an 11-8 lead
    and forced Western Washington University to use its timeout.

    But the team was again plagued by costly errors at the most
    inopportune moments, as three straight UCSD hitting errors gave the Vikings an
    11-13 lead. A kill from senior outside hitter Casey Wilson pulled the Tritons
    within one, but it just wasn’t enough as Western Washington University closed
    the curtain on UCSD’s season.

    According to Ries, the loss was tough to swallow, as the
    Tritons had their sights set on an NCAA title.

    “We’re really used to winning the fifth game,” she
    said. “It was especially tough losing
    because it was so close and it was in the regional. For us seniors, it was an emotional
    ending. Those were the last points of
    our college volleyball careers and the sadness was just overwhelming.”

    Nonetheless, Ries was content with her team’s efforts and
    said Western Washington was a strong opponent.

    “We went out hard and you can’t ask for anything more than
    that,” Ries said. “We had a series of
    calls that didn’t go our way and a few errors.
    They got on a run and we just couldn’t stop them.”

    The loss caps an impressive 20-8 season during which the
    Tritons saw their share of struggles and success. Despite losing eight games,
    UCSD only suffered back-to-back losses once during the course of the season.
    Perhaps the one real weakness of this team was its inability to close out games
    with late leads, and this flaw proved to be its downfall in the playoffs.

    As disappointing as the exit from the NCAA tournament may
    be, Black is still proud with the way the team performed all season.

    “There are a lot of coaching cliches that I’ve begun to
    understand since starting here,” Black said. “These girls have shown me that if
    you really want something and you work hard, you can achieve it.”

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