Volleyball closes preseason in tourney action

Sept. 11, 2017

DAVIS, Calif. - A week with the Causeway Classic and the lone home tourney of the year now sits in the team’s rear view, but UC Davis women’s volleyball certainly drew positives – and key learning moments – from the four-match stretch. Of course, the highlight of the weekend was Friday’s five-set marathon win over Boise State.

The Aggies now enter a short weekend in preparation for the Maverick Classic, taking on host UT Arlington on Thursday, then Lamar and Houston Baptist in a Friday doubleheader. 

“The way we competed against Boise is the way we talk about playing,” said head coach Dan Conners. “That was an improvement in our mentality and the way we come in. Figuring out how to sustain that over a period of time is what will make us great.”

Indeed, a match that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours will provide its share of highlights. Junior Emily Allen and freshman Mahalia White tallied 18 and 17 kills, respectively. The middle blocking tandem of junior Kelechi Ohiri and freshman Alexa Rockas posted remarkably similar attacking charts: 11-2-19 (.474) and 11-2-16 (.562).

The week’s top performer was arguably junior libero Malia Bolko, who totaled a season-best 27 digs in Tuesday’s loss to Sacramento State, then notched defensive totals of 20, 23 and 23 in the three UC Davis Invitational matches. She also surpassed a key milestone of 1,000 career digs in Friday’s opener with Portland State, and represented the Aggies on the all-tournament team.

“I  thought our passing and defense was solid against some good offensive teams,” said Conners. “They definitely had to work to score points. We have to get better offensively, but defensively, I thought we were solid.”

Most importantly, having a pair of five-set matches during the week provided valuable experience as the team approaches the September 19 Big West Conference opener. “If we’re on the road and we have a five-set match on a Friday night, we’ve got to learn how to recover, play another one and be just as competitive the next day. I thought last weekend was a great learning experience for us. We’re going to grow from it and get stronger,” said Conners.

After a 5-1 start to its 2017 season, UTA (5-4) lost three straight matches at New Mexico’s Lobo Classic. Senior outside hitter Qiana Canete, a two-time All-Sun Belt Conference honoree, earned a spot on the all-tourney squad. Zhanelle Geathers leads the Mavs with 119 kills (3.84 kps) while Madison McConnell has a .365 average on 20 blocks (0.62 bps). 

LAMAR (1-5) returned from a Hurricane Harvey-forced bye weekend to compete in Texas Tech’s Red Raider Classic, ending its weekend with a 3-0 loss to Big West Conference member UC Riverside. Junior outside hitter Murielle Hlavac paces the Cardinals with 59 kills and a .254 average offensively.

HOUSTON BAPTIST (7-1) won its first seven matches out of the gates before having tourney host Texas State snap the streak in the finale of the Creeds And Crests Classic. Senior middle blocker Blair Gillard and senior outside hitter Bailey Banks each earned spots on the all-tournament rolls.

QUICK SETS: Malia Bolko not only broke the 1,000-dig barrier for her career, but also passed Caroline Mercado (1,032 from 2009-12) for eighth... Her next target is Jill Changaris (1,112 from 1993-96)... Bolko now ranks third among all-time liberos behind Avreeta Singh (1,831 from 2006-09) and Mary McClelland (1,446 from 2001-04)... Kayla Varney (1,462 from 2007-10) switched to libero partway into her senior year... Of course, Bolko also played DS and OH briefly in 2016 before replacing the injured Heather Reed early in the conference season... Bolko ranks 3rd in the Big West at 4.65 dps... Junior MB Kelechi Ohiri sits 4th in blocks (1.030).

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.