The UC San Diego Women’s Volleyball (10–12, 3–7 Big West) team played up to the occasion against California State University Bakersfield (5–17, 2-8 Big West), with a resounding victory. The team did not disappoint on a day of celebration, as Homecoming, the Karen E. Reis Memorial Game, and a celebration of the Women’s Swim Team’s Championship all coincided. The team dominated from start to finish, an impressive victory for a team that has been tested with a variety of hotly-contested losses to begin conference play.
Right from the start, UCSD came into the game with a willingness to be creative with their scoring. To open the scoring, junior setter Izzi Strand perfectly placed a dump in the shallow corner. Freshman outside hitter Katie Rapp got the crowd involved early with a big block, putting the Tritons up 6–3. The Tritons maintained a healthy lead, and sophomore outside hitter Ava McInnes punctuated the Triton’s hot start with wedging a shot down the middle between blockers to go up 15–9.
The Tritons kept rolling in the first set, with a run continuing with freshman outside hitter Zaria Henderson’s ace to inflate the lead to 19–9. Most of the Tritons errors seemed to be self-inflicted, with the Tritons playing at a very high level when fully engaged. The outmatched roadrunners were putting up a fight, but it seemed as though the strong spikes from the Tritons put them in a bind. Just as the set began with a setter dump, senior libero Naya Dong’s dig turned into an assist after another timely dump from Strand to grant the Tritons the first set, 25–13.
CSUB gained some rare early momentum, but a stifling block from sophomore middle blocker Emily McDaniel cut the deficit to one, 7–6. McDaniel owned the most impressive sequence of the day, with seemingly effortless blocks in a single rally three distinct times, only to have the rally finished by a laser kill from — who else? — Emily McDaniel. After McDaniel’s heroics, the consistently influential Henderson knotted the game at ten with an off tempo kill from the back row.
The run would continue, with a role reversal resulting in McInnes setting up Strand for a tight cross shot, putting the Tritons up 13–10. Henderson’s kill on the next point was the sixth straight point, each of which coming off of a dig from the veteran Dong, forcing a CSUB timeout. The Roadrunners did not fold though, and came up with a little run to make the Tritons sweat. A powerful kill from McInnes off a set from Strand is the climactic response the Tritons come up with. Shortly thereafter, Dong snuck her serve in the back line for an ace, putting the Tritons on the precipice of going up two sets to zero. A block from junior middle blocker Shara Da Silva put a roar in the crowd, and the Tritons won the second set 25–19.
At the break, a rousing celebration occurred for the UCSD women’s swim and dive team. The crowd rose to its feet in support of the 2022 MPSF Conference Champions and the team and coaching staff was given hearty applause. Impressive victory was certainly a theme for the Triton Homecoming.
To start the third set, both teams kept it close with motivation still high for both teams. Da Silva broke the back-and-forth with a monster kill down the middle, giving the Tritons a 12–10 advantage. McInnes’ multiple aces catalyzed a 4–0 run after the roadrunners tied it back up, so the Tritons took a 16–12 lead. McDaniel continued to impress as she scored a quick kill off a rebounded block, again representing the Tritons’ ability to score both in and out of system. Continued pressure from the Tritons inflated the lead to 23–15, forcing another timeout from CSUB. The Tritons continued their run and streak of dominance with a Henderson service ace to end the game at 25–15.
The Triton sweep is impressive not only because of how impressive the team looked, but also because of how difficult it has been for this team to get over the hump in league play. This win could certainly be a momentum-builder, but whether or not the Tritons can build off this win remains to be seen.
The UCSD Guardian caught up with Coach Ricci Luyties after the game, asking him if there are any takeaways from this win that he would like to replicate in the games to come. Luyties said, “I think our serving was tough, and if we can keep pressure on teams that way, we are going to have a lot of success scoring points. We are still feeling out [how to find consistency] with our middles and getting sets with our middles together, so that is something that if we can get better on through the year, it will make our team better.”
The Tritons will look to do just that in their next game at CSU Northridge on Oct. 28, in what should be another exciting Big West matchup.
Image Courtesy of Millie Root