Volleyball snaps five-game losing streak, splits series against Utah State

San+Diego+State+volleyball+freshman+outside+hitter+Heipua+Tautua%27a+bumps+the+ball+during+the+Aztecs%27+3-1+loss+to+Fresno+State+on+Feb.+12%2C+2021+at+Peterson+Gym.

Courtesy of Derrick Tuskan, SDSU Athletics

San Diego State volleyball freshman outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a bumps the ball during the Aztecs’ 3-1 loss to Fresno State on Feb. 12, 2021 at Peterson Gym.

by Megan Oytas, Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball faced Utah State at the Jenny Craig Pavilion at the University of San Diego on March 11 and 12 — games that were originally set to take place at Peterson Gym but changed due to a leak in the roof.

The Aztecs (4-8) split the two-game series against the Aggies (2-7). 

SDSU lost in straight sets on Thursday’s game (25-23, 25-13, 25-19). The Aztecs dropped the first two sets on Friday’s game but fought back to win the game (21-25, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19, 15-7).

Friday’s win snapped SDSU’s five-game losing streak and marked the first set win since the Feb. 26 match against Nevada.

Head coach Brent Hilliard said the team is still trying to build up experience with a surplus of young players.

“It’s been a rough go as of late,” Hilliard said. “We didn’t play the way we were hoping to, still trying to find the rhythm of this team, having the team buy into the new system. And it’s inconsistent, which is to be expected, and especially when your starting setter (junior Camryn Machado) is out for the year and we’re playing two setters that don’t have any experience.”

Match one: Aggies sweep Aztecs

Utah State took all three sets against SDSU, capitalizing off of the Aztecs’ mistakes.

After a close first set, the Aggies quickly took leads in the next two sets to win the match.

The second set started with an early eight-point run to put Utah in an 11-3 lead. Four of the eight points were scored off of Aztec errors.

The story was the same in the third set, where Utah jumped to an early 5-2 lead — all off of errors by SDSU.

The Scarlet and Black recorded 24 attack errors against Utah’s 13. SDSU also had a hitting percentage of only .059.

Hilliard said the pressure of falling behind in the game is a factor in the number of errors.

“We have a tendency to beat ourselves in some of these games and that is because of our errors,” Hilliard said. “We’ve been trying to limit those, and we accentuate those throughout the week in practice, as far as what we need to do to fix them. And sometimes the nerves and anxiety of not having leads in these games can sometimes present more errors.”

One bright spot for the Aztecs was junior middle blocker Andrea Walker, who recorded 10 kills and tied for the lead with junior outside hitter Victoria O’Sullivan. This series marks Walker’s return after being out for two weeks.

Hilliard praised Walker’s performance and said he is excited to see her development.

“(Andrea) was unbelievable, best she’s played all year,” Hilliard said. “We could count on her for clutch swings and she was spectacular. I really got a view of what Andrea Walker will be like — come the fall — and if she can stay healthy for the remaining part of this year, she’s gonna be pretty elite.”

Match two: SDSU drops first two sets, avoids another sweep

After not having won a set since the first game against Nevada, the Aztecs snapped the losing streak in the third set during Friday’s game.

During the third set, neither team had a clear lead. Then SDSU went on a four-point run to get a 17-12 lead and won the set.

The Aztecs then took the lead early in the next two sets to eventually win the game.

Offensively, O’Sullivan and sophomore outside hitter Nya Blair led the team with 12 kills each. Following them was Walker and freshmen outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a with 11 kills each.

Tautua’a recorded her first career double-double, with 11 kills and 11 digs.

The game was also split between the Aztec’s two setters, freshman Kennedy Feuerborn and sophomore Ashley Vanderpan, who each posted 23 assists.

Hilliard said even with Machado out for the season, he was still satisfied with Feuerborn’s performance.

“Usually you have that gap where you can learn under someone new, which (Machado) would have been perfect,” Hilliard said. “So now (Feuerborn) has to be thrust into that role and that presents some good days and some bad days. But overall, I thought that was the best she’s set since she’s been here. She looked more confident with her decisions.”

The Aztecs now only have four games left on their schedule — none of which are two-game series that they have been playing throughout the season.

Hilliard said the win against USU can help the team’s momentum for the end of the season.

“Once we can play with a lead and to move forward with a win, we hope it can generate that consistency for the next match,” Hilliard said. “So next week, we’re hoping things finish on a good note. And we needed that. We needed that for our mental health with our game and stability. And we need it so the physical work that they put in on a weekly basis is rewarded. That’s going to help them out moving forward.”

SDSU’s next game is on the road in Boise, Idaho against Boise State on March 20 at 12 p.m. PST.

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