UTEP Miner Volleyball Team | Photo by Ruben R. Ramirez
UTEP Freshman Ema Uskokovic blasted home a career-high 16 kills and Paulina Perez Rosas (12 kills, 16 digs) and Serena Patterson (11 kills, 13 digs) each posted double-doubles to help the Miners defeat I-10 rival NM State for the first time since 2012 in a thrilling five-set match, 3-2, (20-25, 32-30, 24-26, 25-22, 15-12) inside a rocking Memorial Gym Sunday afternoon.
The Aggies had won nine straight in the series and were 21-2 against the Miners since 2004, but UTEP showed grit and determination to write a new chapter in the Battle of I-10. The Orange and Blue dropped the first set, 25-20, before fighting off six set points to win a marathon set two, 32-30. NM State took the third set, 26-24, but UTEP sent it to five with a 25-22 win in the fourth set. The Miners then rallied from down 9-6 in the final set with a 9-3 surge down the stretch to cap the comeback.
“That was the most stressful match of my life as a head coach,” UTEP head coach Ben Wallis said. “At the end of the day, our cultured helped us win that because our leaders did their job and they got everybody else to believe. That’s from three years of developing them. They decided that they wanted to be different and they put in the work.”
The come-from-behind win caps an amazing weekend for the Miners, who knocked off a pair of Power Five teams (Arizona, Northwestern) on Friday (Sept. 3) before bouncing the Aggies to move to 6-0 on the season. It’s the best start to a year since 2006 when the Orange and Blue raced out at 8-0.
“We’ve got a good volleyball team at UTEP, one that I’m proud of to be 6-0 with this schedule,” Wallis said. “They are going to battle and grind. They’re not afraid. They just decided that they wanted to win, and they executed it.”
Alyssa Sianez piled up a match-high 22 digs to lead the way defensively for UTEP. The Miners racked up 11 blocks, compared to seven from NM State. UTEP outhit the Aggies, .236 to .214. Yasso Amin added nine kills, while Kristen Fritsche (29 assists) and Ryley Frye (20 assists) ran the offense effectively as part of the 6-2 system.
It was an extremely competitive opening set, with neither team leading by more than three until the waning moments. With UTEP down 22-20, NM State scored the next three points to secure the set at 25-20.
UTEP jumped out to the 6-3 lead in the second set before NM State countered with a 7-1 push to put the Miners down by three (10-7). It remained a three-point deficit (12-9) before UTEP got going with four consecutive points to vault back ahead.
The Miners extended the margin to four (22-18) only to have the Aggies unleash a 7-2 run to move to set point. UTEP fought it off with a kill by Amin, starting a trend where the Miners would do that five more times before finally taking the set.
NM State grabbed the early 7-2 advantage in the third set, but once again the Miners had a response. It came in the form of a 19-14 surge to propel UTEP ahead by five (21-16).
Much to the chagrin of the Miner faithful, the Aggies rallied to eventually claim the set, 26-24.
The visitors vaulted to the 9-6 lead in the final set, but UTEP dug deep and roared back with the match-clinching 9-3 surge. Uskokovic registered a pair of kills in the sequence to fuel the rally, with Vittoria Price clinching the contest with a powerful swing off the set up from Frye.
UTEP returns to action at the Portland State Tournament from Sept. 10-11.
Gallery by Ruben R. Ramirez – El Paso Herald Post