Aztecs’ passing woes show against Nevada as halfway mark arrives 

San+Diego+State+volleyball+senior+libero+Lauren+Lee+connects+with+the+ball+during+the+Aztecs+3-1+loss+to+Fresno+State+on+Feb.+12%2C+2021+at+Peterson+Gym.

Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

San Diego State volleyball senior libero Lauren Lee connects with the ball during the Aztecs’ 3-1 loss to Fresno State on Feb. 12, 2021 at Peterson Gym.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball could not quite come on top against Nevada on Feb. 26 and 27 in its two-game Mountain West Conference series at Peterson Gym.  

The Aztecs (3-5 MWC) lost in four sets on Friday and in straight sets on Saturday to the Wolfpack (3-5 MWC). 

Head coach Brent Hilliard said his team could not find any rhythm without its passing. 

“Tough game, both days,” Hilliard said. “Team didn’t play well, didn’t have any facets going, but really never got to see any facets of our game because our passing broke pretty quickly in both matches. We struggled. Without passing, you’re pretty much reduced to high-ball hitting and with just one option, it turned into a really tough two matches.”

Here’s a look back at both matches.

Match one: SDSU loses in four sets 

The Aztecs took the first set, but could not find a way to win two more sets. 

The Scarlet and Black lost in four sets, 25-20, 14-25, 20-25, 15-25. 

Both Nevada and SDSU’s top three kill leaders had 15, 13 and 10 respectively. However, the Aztecs had 24 attack errors compared to the Wolf Pack’s 12. 

Furthermore, Nevada had a hitting percentage of .318 and SDSU’s hitting percentage was .194. 

Freshman outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a led the Aztecs with a career-best 15 kills and added nine digs. 

Hilliard said the 6-foot-1 native from Wai’anae, Hawai’i — on the west side on the island of Oahu — is continuing to learn and progress in her first collegiate season.

“Heipua has been a nice surprise,” HIlliard said. “We decided that she has to get her experience so we’re going to take our lumps, which coaches are going to have to deal with freshmen inconsistencies. We’re very excited about her potential. She has all the right tools to be an extremely valuable player for us. We want to make sure she knows she has a position on this team to get those reps in.”

Sophomore setter Ashley Vanderpan recorded her second double-double of the season, posting 34 assists and 12 digs. 

Senior libero Lauren Lee led all players with 14 digs. 

In the first set, the Aztecs went on a 9-2 run to take a 20-13 lead to eventually win the opening set, which ended with one of Tautua’a’s kills. 

In the final set, the Wolf Pack jumped out to a 5-1 lead and never looked back to win the set and the match.   

Match two: Nevada keeps winning ways

Nevada continued what worked from the day before as it took all three sets to sweep the Aztecs, 25-21, 25-22, 25-13. 

No player got more than eight kills, which senior right side hitter Erin Gillcrist had for the Aztecs. 

The Aztecs’ passing struggled again as it showed with a .080 hitting percentage. 

One of the bright spots came from sophomore defensive specialist Alexis Durand, who got her first start in an Aztec uniform.

The 5-foot-7 defensive specialist recorded a team-high 10 digs. 

Hilliard praised Durand for her efforts following the match.

“Alexis did an admirable job,” Hilliard said. “I had some good words for Alexis after the match. Another kid that hasn’t started and now she gets thrown into a defensive specialist’s role. I thought she did a pretty good job. That was a silver lining and a bright spot today.”

Not only was Durand a new starter, but so was sophomore Serena Hodson at the middle blocker position. 

Hodson had three of the team’s five total blocks. 

HIlliard said Hodson had a normal first match with nerves and the butterflies. 

“Typical in her first match she has started all year,” Hilliard said. “Probably had some anxieties and some nerves and wasn’t able to play free and easy. That’s my job to put her in a better position to be successful. She was just nervous. Once she settles down, she’ll be fine. It was her first match she’s started and you could tell.”

Now, the Aztecs are at the midway point of their 16-game schedule. SDSU is sitting at 3-5 and are currently tied for seventh with the Wolf Pack in the MWC standings. 

Hilliard said the team’s goal is to make the next eight games better than the last eight games. 

“I was thinking about that myself after (Saturday’s) loss. I’m like, ‘We’re 3-4 and what do I tell the team that is going to be a silver lining, a little hope and help push them over the edge?’ I thought about it for a minute and thought to myself, they can certainly leave this program in a better shape than when they started playing.

“It is still within grasp to finish in the top half of the conference, over .500 and do some things a little better than last year’s team. They agreed and caught on. (If) we win a couple games, here and there, we’re back on track. Or, if we win three in a row, we’re within a winning record. We can leave it in a better place than they found it when I got here and that’s my goal and the team’s goal.”

SDSU will hit the road and head up to Laramie, Wyo. to face the Wyoming Cowgirls on March 5 at 5 p.m. PST and on March 6 at 11 a.m. PST.

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