DAVIS, Calif. - After two weeks on the road, UC Davis women's volleyball returns to the friendly confines of the Pavilion for a Tuesday home opener against Causeway Classic rival Sacramento State, followed by the four-team UC Davis Invitational tournament from Friday through Saturday. The Aggies face Portland State, Boise State and Santa Clara in their first home tournament since 2012.
Tuesday's Aggies-Hornets matchup marks the first 2017-18 meeting toward the annual Causeway Cup race, of which UC Davis has won the last five. In volleyball specifically, the Aggies have captured five of the last six meetings, with the Hornets posting a 3-0 sweep back in 2015.
UC Davis enters the week with a 4-2 record following its 1-2 performance at Denver's Pioneer Classic. The Aggies lost to the tourney host plus Eastern Illinois before finishing the trip with a 3-0 sweep of Niagara. Junior outside hitter Emily Allen led the Aggies with 27 kills and 64 swings, while hitting .297 on offense with 27 digs on defense. She was the lone Aggie on the Pioneer Classic all-tournament squad.
"I'd say we still have a long way to go with our discipline. We have a lot to improve," said head coach Dan Conners. "But Emily Allen has been great. She is probably the most disciplined person on our team, and it shows in the way she plays."
Overall, UC Davis has also seen immediate contributions from its freshman class. Opposite Mahalia White finished second to Allen with 26 kills over the weekend. Setter Paloma Bowman splits time in the team's 6-2 system with junior veteran Maddie Merlino. Another program rookie, Alexa Rockas, made her collegiate debut last weekend in place of the injured Lauren Jackson. The Gilbert, Arizona standout notched nine kills in six sets over the weekend. Finally, redshirt freshman Ally Reyes has appeared in 18 of the team's 20 sets, mostly as a serving and defensive specialist.
SACRAMENTO STATE (3-5) opened its season with three wins at St. John's Jack Kaiser Classic, suffered a four-set loss at home against Pacific, then lost three straight to Mizzou, Boise State and BYU at the Boise State Invitational last weekend. Senior OH Shannon Boyle leads the Hornets offensively with 107 kills (3.24 per set), while junior MB Lana Brown has a .379 average (87-21-174) with 34 blocks in 33 frames.
Despite the larger implications of Tuesday's match with the area rivalry, Conners ultimately approaches Sacramento State like he would any other formidable opponent. "Obviously, the rivalry and the Causeway Cup are exciting elements of it, but we prepare for it and we treat it like it was any other match. As a staff or as a team, we don't treat it any differently than any other match because all matches are important."
This emphasis includes, and will carry into, the opponents of the home weekend tournament. BOISE STATE (5-3) posted wins over Sac State and Mizzou at its home tournament last weekend, with senior OH Sierra Nobley leading the way with 71 kills, including 32 against the Hornets. She went on to capture Mountain West Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors, and increase her season kills average to 5.29 per set. Nobley needs 46 more kills to set a MWC career record, having established the BSU benchmark last weekend.
SANTA CLARA (3-3) lost to No. 8 Washington and Big West Conference member Cal Poly in straight sets before taking down Seattle in the Washington Invitational last weekend. Sophomore OH Michelle Gajdka averages 3.26 kills per set (75 total) while the middle blocker tandem of Jensen Cunningham and Hailey Lindberg has hitting averages of .320 and .330, respectively.
PORTLAND STATE (5-1) extended its winning streak to four with four-set victories over Nevada and Arizona State, plus a three-set sweep of tournament host Gonzaga last weekend. Sophomore OH Caitlin Bettenay and junior MB Mikaelyn Sych captured Big Sky Conference Offensive and Defensive POW nods, respectively. Bettenay won Gonzaga Invite MVP honors thanks to 50 kills (4.55 kps) and 30 digs (2.73 dps). Sych notched 10-block performances against the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs, respectively.
True to his season-long goal, Coach Conners looks to see marked progress in his team during this homestand. "We're looking to do that in any match. It would be nice if we do it tomorrow night, and we keep improving as we get into the weekend. Sac State, Portland State, Boise State and Santa Clara are all very good, and we'll have to be sharp to compete with them. We need to make sure we're mentally prepared and physically ready to get after it."
QUICK SETS: Junior libero Malia Bolko inches closer to becoming the ninth UC Davis player to surpass the 1,000-dig barrier in a career... She has 79 for the season, lifting her career total to 957... The Aggies' 25-10 win in the third set against Niagara on Saturday was the program's largest since a 25-10 second-set victory over UC Santa Barbara back on October 8, 2015... UC Davis compiled 13.5 team blocks against Eastern Illinois, but also hit a season-low .175 in the process... Not surprisingly, the two highest averages -- .282 vs. Binghamton, .270 vs. Niagara -- have resulted in 3-0 match wins... This weekend's UC Davis Invitational is a team-for-team duplicate of last year's Boise State Invitational... That tourney saw the Aggies knock off then-No. 17 Santa Clara in four sets, the third time UC Davis had defeated a team ranked in the AVCA Division I Top 25... Aggie alumnus and KDVS regular David "DK" Kim will provide live play-by-play for Tuesday's Causeway Classic match... That audio can be found via Stretch Internet at the link above.
ABOUT UC DAVIS: Providing a small-town community feel while providing a world-class academic experience, UC Davis is home to more than 37,000 students and centrally located between San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and the Napa Valley. The No. 6-ranked public university in the nation according to the Wall Street Journal, and among the top 10 public universities nationwide according to U.S. News and World Report, UC Davis offers nearly 100 graduate programs and more than 100 academic majors across four colleges and six professional schools, ranking among the world and nation's best in numerous disciplines, including veterinary science, agriculture, and plant and animal programs.
DON'T MISS OUT: Season and single-game tickets for all UC Davis fall sports are now on sale by contacting the Athletics Ticket Office at (530) 752-AGS1 or by visiting us online at UCDavisAggies.com.