In the first home game for UC San Diego women’s volleyball in 692 days, the team came out with a purpose. The Tritons won 3 sets to 1 against UC Riverside, 25–10, 25–15, 23–25, 25–16, and looked in complete control for the entire match. With the win, the team improved to 5–9, (2–1 Big West) and kept the momentum in league competition.
In the first set, the Tritons jumped out to a 5–0 lead, which then ballooned to a 12–5 lead, forcing a UC Riverside timeout. Out of the timeout, UCSD scored 3 more consecutive points, highlighted by a kill from sophomore outside hitter Ava McInnes, and decisively took control of the match. UCSD would score the final 6 points to take the first set by an impressive tally of 25–10.
UC Riverside needed to find momentum somewhere after a difficult first set. After UCSD took the first 3 points with 2 consecutive kills from McInnes, UC Riverside responded with 3 scores of their own. Impressive digs from junior libero Naya Dong continually gave the Tritons a chance, and a kill from freshman middle blocker Emily McDaniel put the Tritons up 9–5, forcing another UC Riverside timeout. Though the momentum seemed on the side of UCSD with the backing of the crowd, UC Riverside was hanging tough. However, a stuff from McDaniel soon after capped off 4 straight UCSD points, putting the Tritons in a familiar position up 18–9. Two beautiful sets from senior setter Isabela Dobra gave the Tritons a 25–15 victory in the second set. Dobra’s chemistry with her outside hitters was beginning to shine through, as the Tritons looked to take complete control of this match.
UCSD came out strongly once again in the third set, opening scoring with a service ace from Dobra, then rushing to a 6–3 lead after a combined block from McDaniel and senior opposite Trinity Castañeda. Again, though, UC Riverside provided some resistance, actually taking the lead at 13–12 for the first time in the entire match. An excited UC Riverside team and a quieted crowd looked to build on this momentum, when freshman outside hitter Sabire Kavacova’s assist to McInnes knotted the set back up at 13. A back-and-forth affair continued until another McInnes kill, this time a bump set from Dong, put the Tritons up 23–20, threatening to send UC Riverside home with the crowd beginning to chant “Sweep.” The Tritons may have looked ahead a little too soon, however, because a few unforced errors and a service ace by UC Riverside gave the Highlanders the comeback win by a score of 25–23, and forced a fourth set.
With UC Riverside now holding the momentum and beginning to look competitive, UCSD had a new challenge in trying to put this scrappy team away. Again, UCSD went on some runs and opened the game out by 7–3, but UC Riverside had found their confidence and would not let UCSD pull away, tying the set at 10. Three kills out of four consecutive points for the Tritons all went to Castañeda, and once again UCSD had control at 14–10. Dobra seemed completely connected with her hitters, dishing out assists to McDaniel and three to McInnes in a short stretch, a part of her extraordinary 51-assist effort on the night. The third of the assists to McInnes was set up by an outstanding dig from Dong, and the Tritons were in good shape up 19–12. A service error followed by a block gave UCSD an impressive victory against an inspired UC Riverside team by a score of 25–16, and the Tritons took the match 3 sets to 1.
In what was an excited stadium in a momentous return to home for this team, the performance lived up to the hype of the stadium. UCSD coach Ricci Luyties has to be impressed with the overall steady performance of the team, with very few lapses against Riverside. Specifically, the way these athletes came out of timeouts and started sets with energy displayed the squad’s preparation and genuine enjoyment, which was obvious with this team regardless of whether they were on the court or standing with their teammates.
After Friday’s defeat of Riverside and Saturday’s similar four-set defeat of UC Davis to bring the win streak to three, the Tritons’ next game will be at home at RIMAC arena on Tuesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m., where the Tritons will look to build their confidence against a talented UC Irvine team.
Image courtesy of Derrick Tuskan / UC San Diego Athletics