The UTEP volleyball team, riding on the momentum from a loud home crowd, fell to Texas Tech 3-2 in a thrilling match that ended in extra points in the fifth set in Memorial Gym on Wednesday.
The Miners took set one 25-23, but dropped back-to-back sets 25-20 and 25-18 to the Red Raiders. The Miners had a huge comeback to take set four 25-23 and forced Texas Tech to extra points before ultimately falling 18-16.
“It was exciting because the fans had a lot of energy here, our team was giving out a lot of energy and we were fighting for every point,” head coach Holly Watts said. “Obviously we wanted the five-set match to go the other direction, a play here and there really makes a difference when it (fifth set) ends up 18-16.
“There were other sets that were two point sets that could have gone either way, one of those was ours and one of those was theirs, so something else could have happened. I’m just really so proud of the way they (UTEP) battled and fought and didn’t let anything get them down.”
The resilient UTEP squad racked up season-best totals of 61 kills, 56 assists, 53 digs and 26 block assists in the match. The Red Raiders’ totals were 72 kills, 63 assists, 66 digs, and 18 block assists and one solo block.
The Miner offense was led by Macey Austin, who hammered down 15 kills at a .265 clip with one block assist, Cheyenne Jones, who notched 13 kills with a .212 hitting percentage and five block assists, and Briana Arellano and Mallory Yost, who both recorded 10 kills. Arellano also tallied six digs, two service aces and two block assists while Yost, hitting at a .304 percentage, led the team in block assists with seven. Six-rotation player Amanda King was an all-around force for her team, dishing out 48 assists and notching six kills. The senior setter also three digs and teamed-up for six block assists.
Defensively, UTEP was paced by libero Niki Cebak with 17 digs while Ashley Grzebeniak added 10 of her own.
A blocking effort helped stop the Red Raiders, as the Miners teamed up with 26 block assists in the game.
“Defensive blocking is something that can really bring energy, it’s something that really kept us in some of the sets and helped us to battle back,” Watts said.
Set one began with Texas Tech blanking the Miners 6-0 before a kill by Jones put the Miners on the board. The Orange and Blue then capitalized on Red Raider errors with kills of their own, combined with four block assists to get within one point of Texas Tech, forcing them to take a timeout.
Another Jones kill right out of the timeout tied the set at 15. The two teams would tie one more time at 17-all, before a Miner push, led by two more Jones kills and a kill apiece by Arellano and Austin as well as a block assist from Maddie Morgan and Arellano, ended with a 25-23 set one victory.
The Red Raiders would get the best of the Miners in sets two and three, but the Miners kept fighting in set four, including climbing from a 11-5 deficient, to tie the game at 14 after consecutive service aces by Arellano and back-to-back block assists by freshman duo Jones and Yost.
With the momentum to their advantage, the Miners then began to work for the lead, allowing the Red Raiders to tie the set only twice more before the held a 21-17 advantage.
Five consecutive Texas Tech kills, however, evened the score at 22, but the Red Raider run was stopped by a service error and an Austin kill picked the Miners up 24-22. Texas Tech would answer back with a kill, but Austin put the period on set four with her third kill of the match, giving the Miners the 25-23 set victory and forcing a fifth set.
The fifth set had Texas Tech in control at first, with the Red Raiders getting a 7-3 to force a UTEP timeout. Yost then came back on the court and stopped the run with a kill, but Tech’s Katy Keenan mirrored her with one of her own to keep the Miners down 8-4.
A block assist by Jones and Kylie Baumgartner, followed by a Texas Tech attack error, began the shootout for the lead by both teams. The teams would tie five times as they battled for the game victory, and at 15-all, Texas Tech’s Emily Hill, who had 14 kills for her team, would hammer one down to give the Red Raiders 16-15 advantage.
Not giving up, Arellano answered with a kill of her own to again tie the set at 16. It would be the last point for the Miners, as a UTEP service and attack error would end the set 18-16 and the match.
Despite the loss, Watts was pleased with her team’s grit in the five-set drama.
“It motivates us for tomorrow, and then tomorrow, and then tomorrow, so I think every time we can come out and put out our best effort and fight,” she said. “I think we battled for every point. We started in the hole sometimes and that part is a little frustrating so we’ve got to get better at coming from behind. I think we did a great job of battling for points and competing all the way through and not giving up. We were down a bit early and we just fought and fought and fought.”
The Miners will return to action Friday and Saturday in the first of two home tournaments, the Glory Road Invitational. The team will open the tournament with a meeting with New Mexico at 7:30 p.m. (MT) on Friday at Memorial Gym.