Unbeaten Aggies look ahead to Pioneer Classic

Aug. 28, 2017

DAVIS, Calif. - A 3-0 weekend record and a team title at the UNLV Invitational certainly rates as a satisfying start to head coach Dan Conners and his UC Davis women’s volleyball squad. However, it ultimately is just that: a start. The Aggies now look ahead to Friday and Saturday’s Pioneer Classic and the three matches against host Denver, Eastern Illinois and Niagara.

For Conners, the season-long goal is to see improvement in every match and from each weekend to the next. As such, he sees room to grow on both ends of the court. “We played as a team, we played for each other, and we had great energy all weekend. The team competed hard and gave a great effort. We did some nice things for sure,” he said.

“As great an effort as we gave on defense, we weren’t very disciplined. We can still get a lot better at doing things the way we train. You can make up for a lack of skill with a great effort, and we did that, but I think we need to improve our skill level,” Conners said. “Then on offense, we need to have more in-rhythm opportunities. Our hitters need to do a better job at going fast on their last two steps. I think we hit too many offspeed shots, and it had to do with our timing and our hitters not being aggressive to the ball.”

However, the fourth-year Aggie mentor was quick to point out one key exception on offense: junior outside hitter Brianna Karsseboom. The managerial economics major from Alameda, California, won tournament MVP honors thanks to weekend totals of 31 kills, .273 hitting, four service aces and 29 digs. Karsseboom also became a regular part of the UC Davis serve-receive line during the Las Vegas weekend.

“Bri has stepped into a bigger role than she had last year,” said Conners. “She’s taking on a bigger load this year, and she wants it and is excited about it. She’s a talented player, and now that she’s believing in herself, we’re starting to see what she’s capable of.”

Sophomore Lauren Matias (29 kills, .257, 11 blocks) and junior Lauren Jackson (.265 hitting, three aces, 19 blocks) also made the all-tournament squad over the weekend. Overall, opponents managed just a .128 hitting average versus the Aggies, mostly thanks to 32.5 team blocks. Jackson’s 19, Matias’ 11 and junior Kelechi Ohiri’s 10 highlighted a stifling net defense. 

DENVER (3-0) went unbeaten at the season-opening Hampton Inn & Suites Classic, with victories over Tennessee State, USC Upstate and host College of Charleston. Senior opposite Kayla Principato earned Summit League Offensive Player of the Week honors for her 42-4-85 (.447) attacking chart during the weekend. EASTERN ILLINOIS (2-1) hosted the Panther Invitational last weekend, scoring five-set wins over Memphis and Bradley. Five players amassed at least 25 kills in the 13 total sets, while the team averaged 3.23 blocks per set. NIAGARA (0-3) went winless in tournament play at Syracuse, although senior libero Rylee Hunt highlighted the Purple Eagles with 64 total digs (5.82 per set).

UC Davis faces host DU at 5 p.m. PDT on Friday, then takes on Eastern Illinois (8 a.m.) and Niagara (2:30 p.m.) in Saturday’s session.

QUICK SETS:  Junior Malia Bolko totaled 48 digs in the three UNLV Invite matches, lifting her career total to 926. She looks to become just the ninth Aggie to surpass 1,000 digs in a career... The last to reach that milestone was setter Jenny Woolway, who finished 1,273 during her career from 2010 to 2013... Brianna Karsseboom is the first Aggie to win tournament MVP since Allison Whitson at the 2013 Fresno State Classic... Last weekend also saw the program’s first undefeated tournament since 2011, when UC Davis won the Northern Colorado Classic (3-0), Pioneer Classic (4-0) and Aggie Invitational (3-0)... That 2011 squad is also the last Aggie team to earn votes toward the AVCA Top 25 poll.

UC Davis ranked sixth among public schools by the Wall Street Journal, and No. 1 in such fields as agricultural sciences, ecology and environment, food science and nutrition in the Thomson Reuters ScienceWatch 2011. The university’s plant science department topped the world charts in U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Global Universities” 2017 rankings.