MATCH ONE: ISLANDERS 3 – UTRGV 2 | 25-20, 25-19, 27-29, 23-25, 15-12
WACO, Texas – The Islanders made it interesting in the opener of Saturday's doubleheader, needing five sets to dispatch UTRGV for their 20th consecutive win in regular season play.
"First and foremost, it's great to get the win," said head coach Steve Greene. "I think being able to push through a five set match and really be able to keep focus the entire time, especially with a young team and a new staff, was really nice to see."
Junior outside hitter Brittany Gilpin rose to the occasion, setting a pair of career highs to lead the Islanders in the victory. Gilpin went off offensively, knocking down 20 kills and added 16 digs for her first double-double of the season.
"Brittany was great," said Greene. " She played a really good match from start to finish. She's a go-to hitter for us, obviously, and I really like what she's doing while moving from the middle blocker to outside hitter. We're able to get her the ball a few more times and she's a challenge for other teams."
The newly moved outside provided big numbers, but she dished out high praise for her teammates in helping the transition go smoothly.
"It's different being an outside," Gilpin acknowledged. "There's a lot more responsibility, but the setters keep helping me out and setting me up for those kills. Kate has helped me a lot in the back row, talking to me and telling me where to go."
A diverse Islanders attack proved to be the difference as four Islanders knocked down double-digit kills. Sophomore transfer Madison Fitzsimmons was a force in the middle with 15 kills and seven total blocks while Claire Karsten and Morgan Carlson had 14 and 11 kills, respectively.
In each of the first two sets, the Islanders and Vaqueros traded points early before the Blue and Green was able to establish a comfortable lead in the middle of the set. The Islanders were particularly effective in the second set, hitting .324 as a team.
With a commanding 2-0 lead, the Islanders looked well on their way to a second sweep to open the year, but UTRGV stole the third after the Islanders had match point at 24-20. The Vaqueros managed to pull even with a narrow 25-23 win in the fourth set.
With the match hanging in the balance, the Islanders buckled down defensively in the fifth. The Blue and Green held UTRGV to a .152 clip in the final set, the lowest of the match. The Islanders dug 19 Vaquero attacks in the set, including six apiece from Kate Klepetka and Karsten.
With the back row keeping the ball off the floor, Gilpin capitalized on the attack, flooring five of the 15 points the Islanders needed. When it wasn't Gilpin, Karsten was sharp in transition, hammering home four kills on just six attempts.
• The victory over UTRGV extended the Islanders' regular season winning streak to 20 matches.
• The Islanders have now won the past 15 meetings with the Vaqueros.
• Kristyn Nicholson recorded a double-double with 53 assists and 18 digs.
MATCH TWO: ISLANDERS 1 – BAYLOR 3 | 15-25, 25-7, 20-25, 15-25
In the nightcap, momentum was everything as early-set runs proved to be the difference in all four sets. Baylor jumped out with a vengeance and eventually handed the Islanders (2-1) their first loss of the season.
"We fell behind early in three sets and when you do that against a solid team it's really tough to come back," said Greene following the loss. "I thought we did a good job of staying the course and trying to chip away, but obviously, when you fall behind big to a strong team like that it's going to be really hard to come back."
The opening set was all Baylor from the get-go. The Bears' go-to hitter, Katie Staiger floored five balls in the first set to establish the early tone. Baylor hit .385 in the set en route to the easy 25-15 win.
Then, the Islanders came storming back. With the second set sitting at 8-5 in favor of the Blue and Green, the Islanders rolled off one of the biggest runs you will see, finishing the set with a 17-2 bombardment to even the match. A&M-Corpus Christi hit a hot .478 while stifling the Bears to a -.069 attack.
"I think that one set was the best volleyball we've played," said Greene of the second-set rout. "We had a lot of confidence going into the set and really carried it all throughout the set. Even when Baylor was able to side out , we were able to string together three of four points. I thought Baylor played okay, they made a few mistakes, but we played really, really well."
Staiger and the rest of the Bears' attack proved too much down the stretch, however, as the outside smashed a match-best 20 kills, nine of which came in the decisive fourth set. In both the third and fourth, the Islanders dug early 9-3 holes which proved too much to overcome.
Kate Klepetka and Kristyn Nicholson each earned a spot on the all-tournament team. Klepetka was named the best libero, averaging 4.25 digs per set on the weekend. Nicholson claimed the honor of best setter, handing out 88 assists while also flooring 12 kills herself.
"It was a pretty successful weekend overall," said Greene. "We moved people into new positions, are working a new system and were able to get playing time. Now we know where we stand against other teams and we'll get ready to compete next weekend against two top-ranked teams in the country. Overall I was really happy with how we competed throughout the weekend. Whether we were up 10 points or down five, we really fought and were able to stay focused even through that last match."
TOUGH ROAD NORTH
The Islanders return to action next weekend at the HotelRed Invitational hosted by Wisconsin. The Islanders will likely be facing a pair of nationally-ranked foes as Wisconsin was fourth in this week's opening poll and San Diego sat 26th, but picked up a big win over Stanford on Friday.
The Blue and Green will open their home slate against UTRGV on Tuesday, Sep. 6, at 6:30 p.m. in the Dugan Wellness Center.