The Gators were underdogs in their own house this past weekend, losing to nationally ranked teams UC San Diego (#8) and Cal State San Bernardino (#22) in their first two home matches of the season at The Swamp.
The Gators fell in three sets to the UC San Diego Tritons (9-1) Friday, then watched victory slip away again the following night in the last two possessions of a five-set match against the Cal State San Bernardino Coyotes (6-4). SF State is now 5-5 overall and 0-2 in conference matches.
“To play these two teams is a tall order at any part of the season,” said SF State head coach Jill Muhe. “I am happy with the way we bounced back from (Friday’s loss) and played a hard fought match against CSUSB.”
The Gators knew going into the weekend that Friday’s match would be tough. The undefeated Tritons are off to one of their best starts in program history and rank eighth nationally in both kills (14.65/set) and assists (13.58/set). But SF State kept up for most of the first set and even pulled ahead several times before ultimately losing, 20-25.
UC San Diego’s outside hitters Danielle Dahle and Sophie Rowe had 18 combined kills in the final two sets, three less than the entire SF State team combined, allowing the Tritons to maintain a comfortable lead and ultimately win the match (25-20, 25-11, 25-19).
“The Tritons definitely showed up to play and played well,” Muhe said. “They’re pretty much in mid-season form right now during preseason, and that makes any team hard to beat.”
Unfazed by the loss, SF State came out the following night ready to take on Cal State San Bernardino, the no. 1 team in the California Collegiate Athletic Association last year (24-9).
The Gators commanded the first set of the match, taking a five-point lead. The Coyotes countered their efforts to tie the score but never led, allowing the Gators to pull away, 25-20.
San Bernardino picked up the offense in the next two sets, winning them handily (25-17, 25-19), but SF State didn’t call it a night. The two teams went point for point in the fourth set before SF State middle hitter Kaileen Mejia put the Gators ahead with six crucial kills, clinching the set (25-19) and forcing a fifth one.
The fifth set, too, looked like it belonged to the Gators, but the Coyotes managed to catch up. With the score tied 13-13, The Swamp fell silent; one mistake could cost either team the game.
San Bernardino then had two quick kills, sealing their victory, 15-13 (3-2). Despite the loss, SF State is optimistic about the match.
“I think we passed well,” Muhe said. “I also think we scrambled a lot better than the previous night and did a lot better keeping the ball off the floor.”
Melissa Horton, who had 13 of the Gator’s 60 kills against San Bernardino, saw the loss as a learning experience.
“I think we’re definitely communicating and coming together as a team better,” Horton said. “And we’re going to continue to work on finishing games from the mental aspect of the match.”
SF State will travel down south this Friday and Saturday to play two more back-to-back games against CCAA opponents, Cal State L.A. and Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“It’s going to be another tough weekend,” said outside hitter Jaclyn Clark. “Every team is going to be our number one opponent right now. We’re just going to go out there and play hard.”