Two Takeaways: Volleyball takes two out of three at Wildcat Classic

Senior+Natalie+Smith+sets+up+for+a+serve+during+the+SDSU%2FUSD+Invitational.

Andrew Finley

Senior Natalie Smith sets up for a serve during the SDSU/USD Invitational.

by Megan Oytas, Staff Writer

San Diego State volleyball snapped its five-game losing streak and took two out of three matches at the Wildcat Classic in McKale Center in Tucson, Arizona.

The weekend was characterized by sweeps, with the Aztecs (3-9) opening their weekend against Texas Southern (1-11) and sweeping them (25-17, 25-22, 25-17) on Sept. 17. Later that evening, SDSU faced the host team — University of Arizona (8-3) — and fell in straight sets (25-20, 25-22, 25-15). The Aztecs then wrapped up the classic against UC Riverside (4-6) and won in straight sets (25-15, 25-21, 25-19) in a matinee match on Sept. 18.

SDSU’s two wins consisted of taking early leads and finishing sets with big point runs, including a 10-1 run against Texas Southern to win the first set and an 11-point run against UC Riverside to widen their lead in the third set.

The loss to Arizona, however, saw the Scarlet and Black go back and forth with the Wildcats and a series of errors, allowing Arizona to pull ahead and take the final set.

Here are two takeaways from the Wildcat Classic.

1. Offensive production across the board

In the Aztecs’ two wins, they outhit their opponents handily, posting a .255 hitting percentage against Texas Southern’s .049 and a .303 against UC Riverside’s .086.

In all three matches, senior outside hitter Victoria O’Sullivan led the team in kills. She got double digits in every match, including 11 against Texas Southern, 10 against Arizona, and 14 against UC Riverside.

The freshmen fielded also did their parts, with outside hitter Reagan Merk contributing a season-high seven kills against Texas Southern and UC Riverside and outside hitter Mikela Labno getting the second-most kills against Arizona with six.

“Looking around and seeing like four out of six people on the court are freshmen or underclassmen is really kind of surprising to see for some people, but I have a lot of confidence in the freshmen on our team,” O’Sullivan said. “I know it’s really nerve-wracking coming in as a freshman and playing in such a big arena like that.”

2. Newcomers settling in

SDSU welcomed ten new players prior to the season, with six freshmen and four transfers. Seven of the newcomers saw playtime over the weekend, but most were fielded out of necessity.

“The adjustments haven’t all been planned, they’ve been more out of injuries,” head coach Brent Hilliard said. “So we’re kind of just trying to field competitive teams each week with what we have and fortunately we can, we have a little depth and they’re doing a good job.”

With freshman middle blocker Sara Mukaj tearing her ACL in the match against Long Beach State, senior outside hitter Zoi Faki rolling her ankle, junior middle blocker Serena Hodson out for a concussion and sophomore outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a tweaking her ankle in the middle of the Arizona match, the remaining players had to step up.

Junior middle blocker Julia Haynie stepped into her role with six kills against Texas Southern and UC Riverside, while leading the team in blocks with four in the same matches.

Senior setter Noa Miller — a transfer from Arizona State — led the team in assists over the weekend with 20 against Texas Southern and 26 against UC Riverside, despite splitting time with the other two setters, junior Ashley Vanderpan and sophomore Kennedy Feuerborn.

The tournament overall served as a learning curve for the team.

“It’s one of those things where we’re in a learning period still with all the new transfers and freshmen, they’re still trying to get used to playing with each other and we’re trying to get it all together by the time conference starts,” Hilliard said. “We got some really nice matches that ended up in losses and we had a couple good ones that ended up with wins.”

The Wildcat Classic marked the end of SDSU’s non-conference matches.