As the injuries have mounted, the Aggie volleyball team has continued to keep working and fighting.
Thursday was another prime example of that. Utah State was forced to play a senior out of position against San Diego State in the Wayne Estes Center because there was no one else.
Once again a gritty performance by the Aggies wasn’t quite enough to pick up the win. The Aztecs took the Mountain West Conference match in four, 25-18, 29-27, 17-25, 25-20.
“We have five kids that have started at one point this season that are out,” USU head coach Grayson DuBose said. “I’m not making excuses; it is part of it. The fight in this team is pretty good. For unsuccessful as we’ve been this season, they haven’t quit. They practice hard. They come in early; they stay after and do everything we ask of them.”
The Aggies (2-27, 2-15 MW) held early leads in every set. They couldn’t finish off the Aztecs (15-13, 8-9) in the second set, but rallied in the third to force a fourth.
“Our outside hitting is plug and play right now,” DuBose said. “We have lost athlete after athlete. It’s been one punch after another.”
Both teams hit .174 as each had two athletes with double-figure kills. Bailey Downing and Corinne Larsen led USU with 11 kills each, while SDSU was led by Victoria O’Sullivan and Andrea Walker with 17 and 13 kills, respectively.
“Our right side is doing OK,” DuBose said. “Izzie (Belnap) is doing some stuff, Bailey (Downing) is doing some stuff. Corinne (Larsen) had a nice night and so did Kelee (Call). We just need a chance to get some more production out of that left side.”
Ally Packard ended up playing outside hitter due to injuries. The Aggie defensive specialist ended up with six kills and hit .179.
“Ally has worked hard to figure out how to go kill the ball,” DuBose said. “She hits .179 and I can’t ask much more than that. She hasn’t hit in three years. ... She stepped up and did what she could.”
Once again USU shined on the block. The Aggies have been one of the best blocking teams in the league all season and Thursday was no different. USU finished with 21.0 blocks to SDSU’s 9.0.
“That’s pretty dang good,” DuBose said of his team’s blocking. “... Our block has been good and traditionally is since I got here. I think we have figured that part out.”
Downing had five solo blocks and eight block assists to record her first-ever double-double. Call finished with a career-high 10 block assists, while Larsen had five block assists.
The coach was also pleased with his team’s serving. USU had six aces to SDSU’s three as Heidi Carpenter and Kalena Vaivai had two aces each.
“I thought we got them (Aztecs) in a lot of trouble serving,” DuBose said. “We got them out of system quite a bit. I thought we did the right things serving.”
Madi Olson-Shepherd led the Aggies with 13 digs.
After dropping the first set, the Aggies responded by battling the entire second. Neither team led by more than three points as there were nine lead changes and 19 ties. USU had match point after kills by Call and Downing.
The Aztecs responded with a 4-1 run to serve for their first match point. There were four more side outs before the visitors took the second.
“That second set was tough,” DuBose said. “We had chances. We gave ourselves some opportunities. We just need to be a little better under pressure.”
The Aggies never trailed in the third set, jumping out to a 9-3 lead at the start as the block was working and aces from Carpenter and Vaivai kept the hosts rolling. Downing finished off the set with a kill.
USU built a 4-0 lead to start the fourth, but eventually fell behind 18-12. The Aztecs stayed in front the rest of the fourth.
The Aggies finish the 2019 season on Saturday. They host Fresno State (13-16, 6-11) at the Estes Center at 1 p.m. on Senior Day. Belnap, Carpenter and Packard will be honored before the match begins.
“One more time into the fray,” DuBose said. “It should be a fun one.”