A two-game winning streak was snapped when the UTEP volleyball team dropped a five-set heart-breaker to Abilene Christian, 3-2, in the Borderland Invitational finale in Memorial Gym on Sunday.
The Wildcats struck first, taking set one 25-23, but the Miners regrouped to take back-to-back sets 27-25,25-18 before a marathon ensued in set four, with the Wildcats coming out on top 29-27 and taking the decisive fifth set 15-8. The Miners dropped to 3-6 on the season while the Wildcats improved to 4-7.
“I think overall on the weekend we learned a ton,” head coach Holly Watts said. “To go two-and-one is okay, we certainty didn’t want the ‘one.’ We had some opportunities today that we didn’t take advantage of in the fourth set, and in the fifth set we were up big too. I think we can learn a ton from a match like this and we’ll see now how we respond the next time we come out.”
The Miners’ offense was booming with five players recording double-digit kills. Macey Austin led the way with 15, followed closely behind by Cheyenne Jones with 14 and Mallory Yost with 13, both season-high numbers for the freshman duo. Yost was hitting at an efficient .458 clip to lead the team and also notched season-high stats in service aces (3) and digs (4) while Jones had a team and season-high five service aces and added six digs. Briana Arellano recorded her first double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs and Kylie Baumgartner rounded out the quintet with a season-high 10 kills and added two block assists.
“I think our offense was really balanced,” Watts said. “We had all of our hitters in double-digit kills, we had a lot of good defense, I think everybody that stepped foot on the court today did a great job. We just have to figure out a way to finish.”
Amanda King also had a double-double match with a career and season-high 53 assists and 15 digs while Niki Cebak paced the UTEP defense with 18 digs and three service aces.
The Miners racked up season-high totals of 69 kills, 61 assists, 13 service aces, 73 digs, while recording 14 block assists and one solo block in the match. The Wildcats notched 57 kills, 51 assists, eight service aces, 64 digs, 10 block assists and three solo blocks.
After dropping a highly contested set one, the Miners were able to close out a tight 27-25 set two that shifted the momentum of the match in UTEP’s favor.
Riding that momentum and coupled with a loud home crowd, the Miners took the seven point set three victory, climbing out of a 2-0 deficit at the start of the set to tie the game four times before they made a run to lead Abilene Christian 14-9. Four consecutive Miner errors brought the Wildcats within one, but a huge Baumgartner kill and a power hit from Austin into the Abilene Christian block put the Miners up 16-13.
UTEP kept composure after a set error, with Baumgartner knocking down another kill and Yost notching a solo block to stop an attack for the fired-up Miner squad. A Cebak service ace ballooned the lead the five before the Wildcats responded with a kill to bring the score to 19-15.
Consecutive kills Yost and Jones and an attack error by the Wildcats brought the Miners up 22-15, and they were able to close the set 25-18 off kills by Austin and Arellano and another Wildcat error and take the 2-1 match lead.
The Miners jumped out to a 5-0 set three lead before the Wildcats got their first point from an Austin attack error. UTEP would put together another run however, getting its largest lead at an 11-3 score. Abilene Christian would begin to climb out of the deficit, recording a service ace and getting free points from consecutive Miner errors to get within two, 21-19.
Back-to-back Wildcat kills would inch them closer to the Miners before an attack error would spoil the match point for the Miners and tie the game at 24. A back and forth effort would ensue for both teams before Abilene Christian got the upper hand off of consecutive kills to end the set 29-27 and tie the match before the Wildcats took the 15-8 decisive set.
“We just need more runs, we gave up two huge runs to finish it off,” Watts said. “We can’t give away runs in any way to anybody. We need to score runs of our own and not give any away so that’s kind of the thing that we’re always going to try to work on.”
The Miners will be back in action Sept. 15-16 when they travel to Portland, Ore. for the Nike Invitational.