UCR volleyball raises questions with unexpected gut-check over weekend

Bri Chew/HIGHLANDER
Bri Chew/HIGHLANDER

September 25, 2015

Highlanders 3 – Titans 2

To say the UC Riverside women’s volleyball team entered Friday’s Big West opener against the Cal State Fullerton Titans as heavy favorites would be an understatement. Entering the matchup, UCR (6-8) was on pace to achieve their best overall record since 2005, while Cal State Fullerton (0-13) has yet to find a win almost halfway into the season.

But when taking those records into account, it can just as easily be said that for all the momentum and expectations in the Highlanders’ favor, they weren’t equal to the Titans’ hunger to earn their first win of the year. And early on, this certainly seemed to be the case.

To the surprise of the UCR crowd, Fullerton grinded out a 27-25 win in the first set but the Highlanders responded with a 25-10 win in the second, taking control of the match for good. Or so we thought. In what seemed to happen in the blink of an eye, UCR found themselves trailing CSUF two sets to one on the evening after the Titans took the third set with a decisive 25-14 victory.

When it seemed the Highlanders couldn’t get pushed any further against the ropes, the Titans pulled no punches in the fourth, jumping out to an early 19-12 lead in the set. Just as quickly as the hope in the building started to fade away, though, UCR responded with five straight points on the back of a pair of kills by sophomore Alex Gresham — 19-17, Titans.

CSUF maintained a two-point advantage while pushing the score to 24-22, forcing the Highlanders in their first of four match points on the evening. The Highlanders responded with a kill credited to Meg Graham and were able to tie the score thanks to a Fullerton error. From there, the teams battled for a win over the next 12 points until an attack error on the part of the Titans gave them the win.

One could hear the team’s collective sighs of relief from the stands and that relief was eventually channeled into sheer will as the Highlanders took the fifth set, 15-10, never losing the lead throughout.

While one could rightfully say that a win is a win and point to the fact that the Highlanders are still on pace to achieve their best overall record since 2005 as reasons to remain fully optimistic, having to escape with a victory against what should have been a fairly easy opponent does draw some concern. Not necessarily about how much talent they have (which, by the way, they have plenty) but more so whether the team is ready to fulfill the high expectations that are placed on them this season due to that talent.

There is a distinct possibility that those aforementioned expectations were too quickly placed upon the team and that this fairly young Highlander team needs a bit of time to adjust. Perhaps undergoing more adversity can be a catalyst to their development and eventual growth into a fully cohesive unit.

More simply put: a young team must experience it’s share of growing pains.

Yet, just as there is no reason to overlook the team’s early struggles on Friday, there is no need to panic either. Drawing any prolonged conclusions based upon one game would be misguided, but to level expectations of the team’s prospects going forward is fair.

Nevertheless, the team responded to adversity with their backs against the wall in this one and now has the opportunity to channel such emotions into more dominant play going forward. And, just maybe they can raise our expectations once again as they get deeper into conference play. They’ll get their next opportunity to do so on the road Wednesday, September 30, against UC Davis.

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