IRVINE — In a season that has been nothing short of depressing, the UC Irvine women's volleyball team got a much-needed lift Tuesday night.
The Anteaters, who had lost six straight and have been working with noted sports psychologist Bill Parham in hopes of being able to dismiss misfortune and focus on the next play, made enough plays to earn a 23-25, 25-20, 25-23, 25-21 Big West Conference triumph over visiting UC Riverside.
And while their first win in five conference matches, their first in their last seven contests overall, might not be enough to get them off the proverbial couch, the 'Eaters (5-12, 1-4 in the Big West) can at least take solace in being off the mat.
UC Riverside, which snapped a seven-match losing streak with a nonleague victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Friday, fell to 2-15, 0-3.
Cal State Northridge (6-12, 0-4) is also still looking for its first conference win.
UCI seniors Juliane Piggott and Kari Pestolesi led the hitting attack with 17 and 14 kills, respectively.
Sophomore libero Kristin Winkler added a match-high 27 digs, and freshman Alyssa Squires chipped in 11 kills while leading the team with a .381 hitting percentage.
UCI Coach Paula Weishoff, who praised her team for continuing to battle and work hard during an abysmal campaign thus far, credited senior Ashley Bosza, one of three setters that played extensively, with adding a spark late in the match.
Bosza, who entered the match in Game 3 with the score tied, 11-11, had 10 assists. Bosza started the fourth game, in which the Anteaters lost an early lead, but finally put the Highlanders away.
The visitors rallied from a 20-17 deficit to claim the opening game. But UCI, perhaps taking Parham's once-weekly teachings to heart, showed it could repeatedly turn the page and the other cheek.
"We've been working with Dr. P, and he's getting [the players] to relax in times of stress," Weishoff said. "Our focus has been more about us than the other team and [that focus] is on playing hard, staying aggressive and managing the game.
"We need to learn how to relax and let it go and move on to the next point, instead of getting tenser and tenser. So no matter who we have played, the closer [the match] gets the tighter [our players] get. I've said, 'Come on, just let it go.' We had moments where we let it go, and then we let the [Highlanders] come back. But we had some of those breakthrough moments. If we can keep those and remember those, it's a start of where we need to go."
Sophomore setter Marissa Alvarez started and recorded 15 assists in three sets. Freshman Mary Carls was first off the bench and contributed a team-high 18 assists in four sets. But it was Bosza, whose .400 set percentage led the three setters, seemed to put UCI on its most productive path.
Pestolesi, who finished off Game 3 with a kill, had six kills in the clinching game, including one of her trademark rips off the block on match point.
Senior Marissa Nordyke had eight kills.
But Pestolesi, who hit .196, and Piggott (.188) combined to make 13 of the Anteaters' 25 hitting errors and seven of the squad's 13 missed serves.
UCI hit .208 as a team, well better than Riverside's .138 rate. Riverside also won the blocking battle with 12.5 blocks to UCI's 7.5.
"It was nice," Weishoff said of the win.