In the season finale for the Utah State volleyball team, it was a capsule of how the 2019 season has gone.
The Aggies battled to the end, but came up short Saturday afternoon at the Wayne Estes Center on Senior Day. Fresno State was able to finish strong at the end of each set in a Mountain West Conference sweep of USU, 25-20, 26-24, 25-22.
“It’s tough because you have to be able to finish and we can’t finish,” Aggie head coach Grayson DuBose said.
Utah State (2-28, 2-16 MW) ended the season a 12-match losing streak. Despite the rough year, DuBose became emotional after the match in describing how the athletes never threw in the towel and kept practicing hard.
“They are great kids and work their tails off,” DuBose said. “... Having experience matters and allowing that to be fostered and grown is a really huge deal. Otherwise it’s just always young kids every year. We have battled that the last two years and injuries. These kids have been tenacious. When you struggle like we have, the tendency for most teams is to pack it in. To their credit, that is not who they are. It’s been a real pleasure to coach them.”
After falling in four sets Thursday to San Diego State, the Aggie athletes came to practice Friday and many stayed late to work more.
“They were still staying after and coming in early to work on getting better,” DuBose said. “I can’t ever fault their work ethic, just good people. I’m fortunate to get to do what I do.”
Before the match against the Bulldogs (14-16, 7-11), USU honored seniors Izzie Belnap, Heidi Carpenter and Ally Packard. The trio made their way to Logan as transfers.
“Izzie is a great, vivacious young lady with big personality to match it all,” DuBose said. “I really like what she did. She came in and tried to take some leadership. Heidi came in last January and has been awesome. She embraced a lot of new stuff. Ally is kind of a Swiss army knife. She can do a bunch of different things and we’ve asked her to do a bunch of things in the three years she has been here.”
In her final collegiate match, Belnap, an opposite side hitter, led the Aggies with nine kills and hit .500. Carpenter, a setter, had 12 assists and seven digs. Packard, who is normally a defensive specialist had been playing outside hitter because of injuries, finished with three kills and seven digs.
Five Aggies watched the final match in street clothes with season-ending injuries. Each had been a starter at one point this season. DuBose didn’t use the injuries as an excuse, but it is evident the missing players took a toll.
“We were playing without five of 16 kids because of season-ending injuries,” DuBose said. “That’s 30 percent of your roster. But God bless these kids because they worked their butts off and did everything we asked.”
The Bulldogs were led by Desiree Sukhov an Amilya Thompson with 13 and 12 kills, respectively. Reagan Leonard had a match-high 13 kills, while USU’s Madi Olson-Shepherd had a team-high 10 kills.
In the first set, there were 10 ties and three lead changes. Fresno State finished it off by scoring the final three points on two kills and an ace.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 9-3 lead to start the second set and would never trail. However, the Aggies did rally to tie it at 22-22 and 24-24. An ace by Packard and block by Bailey Downing and Kelee Call tied it the first time. Fresno State finished it off with two kills.
“Our serving helped us in the second and the third,” DuBose said. “Ally did some nice stuff. Heidi did too, as well as Kalena (Vaivai). Madi did too.”
The Aggies used three runs of 5-0 in the third set to build a 21-15 lead. But the Bulldogs roared back with nine unanswered points to take the lead and eventually win the set and match.
“I thought Izzie had a nice match, and Bailey also had a decent match,” DuBose said. “I thought our block was doing some good stuff. But you have to finish.”