Volleyball splits series against Bulldogs, Hilliard gets first SDSU win


Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

San Diego State volleyball freshman outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a spikes the ball during the Aztecs’ 3-1 loss to Fresno State on Feb. 12 at Peterson Gym.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball faced Fresno State for its first two home matches since 2019 at Peterson Gym. 

The Aztecs split the two-game Mountain West Conference series against the Bulldogs. 

SDSU lost Friday’s match in four sets, 25-22, 16-25, 18-25, 18-25. 

On Saturday, it was a different story as the Aztecs (1-3 MWC) swept the Bulldogs (1-1 MWC) in straight sets 25-19, 26-24, 25-20 and Brent Hilliard got his first win as SDSU head coach. 

Hilliard said the two matches were a complete flip.

“They were drastically different — 180,” Hilliard said. “We went over film today before the match and it wasn’t pretty and we weren’t happy with the way we played yesterday. We were hoping we could clean things up and sure enough we did and that’s what I was hoping to see today. Two different tales, couldn’t sleep last night and I should get a better night’s sleep.”

The first-year head coach said he was ready to explode if they did not get a win on Saturday. 

“I don’t know what was going to happen, but something was going to combust on me if we weren’t going to get one soon,” Hilliard said.

Match 1: SDSU takes set one, despite losing the next three 

For most of the match, the Aztecs trailed. 

However in the first set, SDSU used a 4-1 run late to set up four set point opportunities and it took a timeout by Hilliard to change the server’s timing, resulting in a service error which led to the Aztecs winning the set.

But in set two, the Bulldogs took off, never trailing and led by as many as 10 points.

The third set was much the same, as Fresno State jumped out to a 12-5 lead enroute to winning the set, 25-18. 

The fourth and final set followed the previous two as the Bulldogs used a 13-3 run to extend their lead and eventually win the match. 

Percentage-wise, Fresno State outhit SDSU .246 to .087. 

Despite both teams having 45 kills each, the Scarlet and Black had 19 more attack errors (34-15).

Hilliard said the hitters could not get into flow because of the passing.

“Our attack errors are kind of connected to our ball control,” Hilliard said. “We really struggled passing yesterday and in previous matches against UNLV and when we can’t pass, the attackers — and they’re good athletes — they aren’t able to gain rhythm and get the swings they are totally capable of doing.”

Junior outside hitter Victoria O’Sullivan led the Aztecs with 11 kills and a .086 hitting percentage. 

Defensively, the Aztecs had 51 digs compared to Fresno State’s 36. 

Senior libero Lauren Lee led SDSU with 15 digs with freshman outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a right behind her with 11 to go with five kills. 

Match 2: Aztecs turn things around and sweep FSU

Like on Friday, SDSU was able to win the first set, but they also figured out how to hold the lead and find a way to win. 

The second set tested the team’s mentality. 

They were down 24-21 with Fresno State having three opportunities to win the set. 

Sophomore outside hitter Nya Blair, who checked in on the previous play, got a point on a kill. Then, O’Sullivan followed with one of her match-high 11 kills, forcing the Bulldogs to call timeout. 

Out of the timeout, O’Sullivan got another kill to tie things up at 24, set up by sophomore setter Ashley Vanderpan, who recorded a double-double with 30 assists and 11 digs. 

On the next play, O’Sullivan got her third-straight point, this time defensively with a solo block and the Aztecs had set point advantage up 25-24. 

SDSU won the next point and the set on an attack error from the Bulldogs. 

Hilliard said he applauded Blair for starting and finishing the run while describing that period as a possible season-changing moment.

“I told the team after the match, you never know and I certainly can’t tell you the future, but that can be a turning point in your season,” Hilliard said. “There are not a lot of games where people are down set point, or five or six set points and come back. It certainly turned our competitive nature around and we felt like if we can win that game, then no lead is safe for somebody else.

“It’s such a rarity to be that far down and come back. I think Nya Blair instigated the whole thing, including attacking and then going back to the service line and serving the match up.”

Anticipation and pressure increased and continued in the third set when SDSU led 18-15.

The ball went back-and-forth and a rally ensued with no team wanting the ball to hit their side of the Peterson Gym hardwood.

After about 20 back-and-forth possessions for the point, SDSU prevailed to take a four-point lead, where Tautua’a and senior right side hitter Erin Gillcrist teamed up for a block, which led to the Bulldogs to call a timeout. 

Fresno State took four of the next five points to shorten the lead to one, 20-19, forcing Hilliard to call a timeout of his own. 

Just as Fresno State was successful after their timeout, so were the Aztecs, who scored five of the next six points to win the set and the match, 25-20. 

With the first win of the season on Saturday, Hilliard said the team can play more relaxed. 

“I told the team it’s going to be a huge relief factor and allow us to play a little bit more freely,” Hilliard said. “If you ever get stuck in one of those situations, (it) doesn’t matter if it is mid-season, you just grind harder and harder. So everyone should be a little bit looser and now we’re in a different (mode) to relax and hopefully play a little bit better.”

Not only did Saturday mark the first win of the season, but it was the first two matches at home.

Hilliard said it was beneficial to finally play a home match and get those juices flowing again, especially as a former athlete. 

“It feels great,” Hilliard said. “It lets you know you’re alive. That’s for sure; that’s why I do it. There’s no place I’d rather be than coaching a match, period. I love the competitive aspect as something you lose as ex-players. You get the game as coaches and you’re very fortunate to be in those situations. Not a lot of people get to do what I do and I really love. It felt really good.”