San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Volleyball honors six players before Senior Day final match against UNLV

Julia Haynie, Heipua Tautua’a, Bailey Darnell, Jordyn Goldsmith, Reagan Merk and Elly Schraeder shared center stage before the Aztecs dropped their last match of 2023
Christie Yeung
San Diego State seniors Julia Haynie (13) and Heipua Tautua’a (2) rise for a block earlier this season at Aztec Court at Peterson Gym.

On a day that started with a decorated locker room, complete with baskets specially made by teammates, the result of the San Diego State volleyball team’s senior day match seemed almost secondary.

The Aztecs closed the 2023 season with a 3-1 loss to the visiting UNLV Rebels, but it seemed the furthest thing from the mind of the players, as family and friends filled the playing surface at Aztec Court at Peterson Gym after the match on Saturday afternoon.

“Family. Ohana,” senior outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a said, describing the SDSU volleyball program.

“We stick together no matter what.”

SDSU (9-20, 4-14 Mountain West Conference) pushed the preseason conference favorites, sending two sets beyond the 25th point. The Rebels (19-11, 11-7) secured a spot in the Mountain West Championship tournament as the No. 3 seed with the win, taking the match by set scores of 25-16, 24-26, 25-21 and 29-27.

“UNLV always brings good energy with their crowd,” said senior middle blocker Julia Haynie. “It really keeps us on our toes and engages us to play at the highest level possible.”

Haynie and Tautua’a were part of a six-player ceremony before the match. The Aztecs acknowledged the efforts of the senior duo and graduate transfer Bailey Darnell, as well as junior eligibility players Jordyn Goldsmith, Reagan Merk and Elly Schraeder.

“There’s still some things in the air, so we haven’t determined… there’s a couple of players that have COVID years and those are usually player-driven and coach-driven.” said head coach Brent Hilliard.

“We’re in a good position right now where we have a lot of freedom to do some things and it might include bringing those players back… Right now, we wanted to honor them, let them know that we really enjoyed being in the gym with them.”

Haynie, who appeared in 68 matches and 231 sets for the Scarlet and Black since transferring from Portland State in fall of 2021, appeared in her final collegiate match after using her extra COVID year of eligibility this season. She finished with the top hitting percentage on the team at .318 and tied with Schraeder for most blocks (52.0), while having the third-most kills per set (2.09).

“I transferred originally because of team dynamics and that is something that I absolutely love about San Diego State — these girls are some of my best friends and I love fighting with them at practice on the court and outside of the court,” Haynie said. “I would give the shirt off my back for any of these ladies and I know they would do the same for me.”

Emotions were high for the day, as the Aztecs rallied after scoring only four points with the serve while UNLV put up 15 while serving in a 25-16 defeat in the first set.

In the second set, SDSU overcame a five point run by UNLV with a six point run of their own, leading to a 21-21 tie. Eventually, Tautua’a bashed home the set-winning kill for the Aztecs to even the match.

“This is the most energy we ever had throughout any game we played and (we did well) letting go of mistakes fast,” Tautua’a said.

The senior from Wai’anae, Hawaii, was overcome by emotion, both in the pregame ceremony, as well as in the postgame. Her compliments for her teammates and the program came coupled with tears from her passionately resolute eyes.

In four years with SDSU, Tautua’a played in 100 matches and 361 sets — she appeared in all but five matches during her time on the Mesa. She notched 10 kills in the match against the Rebels.

“Time flies… I just wish it was never ending,” she said.

In the third set, UNLV scored 11 of the 13 points after the teams were tied at 10-10. The Aztecs clawed back with a six point run to pull within four points at 23-19, but ultimately fell in the set, 25-21.

“Part of the learning curve is, what do you do when the match is 22 and beyond?” Hilliard said. “That’s where we’ve been struggling this year and something that will improve as we get more experience.”

In the fourth set, SDSU had four opportunities to put it away after 15 ties and eight lead changes. However, preseason Mountain West Player of the Year, redshirt senior Isabel Martin notched the final of her match-high 14 kills to seal it, 29-27 for UNLV.

Sophomore opposite Taylor Underwood equaled Martin’s 14 kills, while also serving a match-high three aces. Fellow sophomore outside hitter Mikela Labno also put away 10 kills for the Aztecs.

“I’m super excited for the years to come for these girls,” Haynie said, her countenance glowing with knowing belief.

“I think Taylor Underwood has shown her ability and her professionalism on the court and with setters like Sarena (Gonzalez), and we’ve got McKenna (Douglas) in the back row, it’s setting up for a really successful few years to come.”

Setters, sophomore Gonzalez and freshman Fatimah Hall, combined for 45 assists in the match, while sophomore libero Douglas dove all over the court for a team-tops 14 digs.

UNLV also benefited from 12 kills by senior outside hitter Gabrielle Arretche-Ramos, as well as senior setter Arien Farfard dealing a match-leading 44 assists and junior libero Isha Knight notching a match-best 18 digs.

On a day where so much attention was duly focused on the SDSU seniors, Hilliard also saw the path forward for the Aztecs after a challenging season. Despite having key players miss multiple matches during the season due to injuries, it opened the door for first and second-year players to gain critical court time.

“We had a lot of things not go our way and we handled it as best we could,” Hilliard said. “What came of it is, we got a lot of (players) experience.

They are going to be on the court for a long time and I think we have the things that we need to accompany them from what we’re missing.”

While the Rebels will prepare for an opening round matchup against No. 6 seed New Mexico on Wednesday at Cox Pavillion in Las Vegas, Tautua’a saw a bright future for San Diego State.

“The class that was on the court in the second set, they’re all sophomores,” she said.

“Just wait ‘till they’re seniors and juniors. They’re going to be unstoppable. I just know they are.”

About the Contributors
Eric Evelhoch
Eric Evelhoch, '23-24 Sports Editor
Eric Evelhoch (he/him/his) is a senior media studies major who was born outside of Detroit, Michigan, and lived in Ventura County, California, for a decade-plus. He is a returning college student and transfer from Santa Barbara City College, where he served as Sports Editor for The Channels. Evelhoch is also a Sports Director for KCR College Radio, where he restarted play-by-play coverage post-pandemic. Currently, he serves as the play-by-play broadcaster for the SDSU ACHA DI hockey team and has filled in on the call for Aztecs sports on the Mountain West Network. His prior freelance experience includes print, digital, online video and audio-only, and broadcast radio formats covering football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer and volleyball.
Christie Yeung, '24-25 News Editor
Born in Hong Kong, Christie Yeung is a first-generation transfer student who majors in journalism at San Diego State University. Prior to arriving at SDSU, she served as the Gaming/Tech Editor, Features Editor and Managing Editor of SAC Media at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California where she was placed in on-the-spot competitions such as fourth in News photo, second in Portrait photo, first in Sports photo, first in Social Media and second in News writing, along with a meritorious mention in the Enterprise News Story/Series category from Journalism Association of Community Colleges. She was also awarded second in Best Breaking News Stories by the California College Media Association. During her free time, she likes to watch European soccer games, read, listen to Cantonese-pop music and play video games and Dungeons & Dragons with her online friends. She also has a sweet tooth and cannot turn away anything with Nutella in it.