Toreros handle 'Eaters

IRVINE — Swimming against the current of a seriously upgraded schedule, the UC Irvine women's volleyball team continued to sink beneath the surface Tuesday night.

But second-year coach Paula Weishoff said she hopes playing better competition will eventually be a weight belt the Anteaters can release and then rise in the Big West Conference standings.

In the home opener against No. 23-ranked San Diego, however, UCI players performed as if an anchor was chained to their collective ankles.

The Toreros were clearly unwilling to provide the Anteaters any flotation, snapping off a 25-20, 25-12, 25-21 nonconference win that makes it five losses in its last six matches for UCI (3-6).

In its six losses this season, UCI has won only one set. Its three victories have come against Idaho, Weber State and San Diego State, who have a combined record of 11-17.

"I'm taking my RPI bullet," said Weishoff, who admitted that she may have overcompensated for the lack of schedule strength that helped keep last season's 22-8 team that finished second in the Big West, out of the NCAA Tournament. "I'll take the blame on that one, but I honestly believe we have the team to play this schedule. I'm not going to play sisters of the poor. We've got to get better."

Making that happen has proved perplexing to Weishoff and her staff, who shuttled in 13 players Tuesday and, during some of the third game, had just one player on the floor who started the match.

"We're struggling a little bit and we're trying to find our identity," said Weishoff, whose squad came in with a team hitting percentage of .147 and proceeded to hit just .052 against the Toreros.

"We're going to stay with it," said Weishoff, whose post-match address to her players lasted more than 30 minutes. "We need to stay together and have courage. Yeah, it's embarrassing at times the way we're playing. But we've got to stick it out. Last season, we won the preseason and we didn't win the conference. So maybe this year, we'll lose the preseason and win the conference.

"We have a tough schedule and that's on me, because I scheduled it. I thought we'd be able to handle it. Ok, we can't handle it. So, what are we going to do at this point? You have to move on and get better and learn something. Hopefully, we'll get into conference and say 'Maybe it paid off.' "

Senior outside hitter Kari Pestolesi led UCI with 11 kills and eight digs and her .200 hitting percentage was better than all but sophomore setter Marissa Alvarez (.250), who had one kill.

Senior outside hitter Juliane Piggott, a Corona del Mar High product still working her way back from an early-season back ailment, had five kills and hit .143. She was benched for the entire third game.

The rest of the UCI roster produced 10 kills and 13 hitting errors.

Still, Weishoff said freshmen reserves Shaina Olsen (four kills), Mary Carls, Shannon Fleming (four block assists) and Sarah Wilder (five digs) provided a spark in a third game in which UCI earned a 4-2 lead and remained within 23-21 before San Diego (5-3) closed out its third straight win.

"I like what the freshmen are doing when they come in," Weishoff said. "They inspire. They give me hope. We probably had more errors in the third game [with the aforementioned freshmen in the lineup] than we did in the first two, but it looked and felt a lot better. We need that [energy]. Once we get that, we'll be OK. It's just trying to find the right lineup right now."

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