The UTSA volleyball team (2-1) hosted their home-opener in the Convocation Center for the 2021 season with a down the highway matchup against the University of the Incarnate Word (0-2). The Roadrunners won the starting set, and after dropping the following two to UIW, rallied to claim the final two sets, ending the match 3-2 (25-20, 21-25, 15-25, 25-21, 15-13).
Sophomore outside Hunter Coppola claimed the first point of the first set, contributing to her 15 kills for the match. UTSA took the lead early on, containing UIW’s strong front-row presence led by Bethany Clapp. UIW kept the ‘Runners within a few points throughout the set before sophomore setter Courtney Walters went on a serving run, gaining a three-point advantage over the Cardinals, 13-9. Walters tallied 45 assists and eight service aces for the match, partnered with sophomore outside Bianca Ejesieme’s right side assault of 17 kills and five blocks. UIW tied the set at 18-18 but was unable to gain the lead as UTSA’s defense covered the backcourt. A kill from junior outside Kirby Smith concluded the first set 25-20.
Ejesieme and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Jessica Langridge recorded a joint block to begin the second set. Scoring the first four points of the set, the ‘Runners outlasted UIW in multiple rallies, forcing the Cardinals’ hitting errors for a 9-3 lead. Errors on UTSA’s side of the court tied the game at 20-20. Leading the back row for UTSA, junior libero Mia Ybarra recorded 19 digs for the match. Unable to hold onto the lead as UIW forced back-to-back errors, the Cardinals claimed the second set 25-21.
Starting the third set with a right-side line kill by Ejesieme, UTSA was unable to maintain a lead for the set, down 3-1. UIW registered nine uncontested points, forcing defensive errors for the ‘Runners. UTSA’s front row continued their performance in the match, with Smith recording 13 kills and seven digs followed by Langridge with 13 kills and four blocks. Forcing multiple errors on the ‘Runners’ side of the court, UIW took advantage of the scoring deficit, closing a short third set 25-15.
The ‘Runners turned the match around in the fourth set, down 1-2, taking an early 6-5 lead. Junior outside Skyeler Embry tallied six kills, and junior setter Mia Perales contributed 11 assists for the match. Multiple long rallies took over the fourth set as UTSA outlasted the Cardinals. A kill from Coppola put UTSA in set-winning position, and a hitting error from UIW’s front row ended the set 25-21, forcing a fifth set tiebreaker.
Coppola began the fifth set with an outside kill before UTSA recorded back-to-back errors to tie the game to 15 at 2-2. The ‘Runners’ front row took advantage of UIW’s block coverage, gaining a 5-2 advantage. Bringing a strong blocking presence to the defense, Ejesieme and Langridge created a threatening lead. UTSA took a 13-11 lead before a kill and block combination from UIW created pressure for the ‘Runners at 14-13. Claiming the set after an error by the Cardinals, UTSA was victorious in the fifth set, winning the match 3-2.
For her performance during the match, Ejesieme was named the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. The ‘Runners will be on the road to Southern Methodist University for a two-game series against the Mustangs on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 2 p.m. Both games will be live on ESPN+. UTSA will return to the Convocation Center to face the Texas State Bobcats Feb. 10 at 7 p.m.