The UTSA volleyball team (0-2) has begun their 2021 season. Welcoming newcomers and preparing for their conference slate, the Roadrunners have stacked the beginning of their season with nationally ranked teams from the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference (SEC) before competing for the Conference USA title.
Following the team’s four set win in an exhibition match against Sam Houston State University, the ‘Runners traveled to Austin to face the No. 20 ranked San Diego Toreros. Taking a 3-0 lead early in the first set, UTSA forced four Torero errors, maintaining a 12-6 lead. Kills from senior Hannah Lopez and junior Bianca Ejesieme kept San Diego at bay as the ‘Runners led 20-11. Forcing three attack errors and securing kills from Amanda Ifeanyi and Hunter Coppola, UTSA claimed the first set, 25-11.
The second set saw a fueled Torero front line as San Diego claimed the first five of eight points played. A block from Coppola and four forced hitting errors gave the ‘Runners the 10-6 advantage. A four-point run late in the set caused by hitting and handling errors, the Toreros regained the lead and held for the duration of the set. Claiming eight of the last 10 points tied the match at 1-1, San Diego finishing the second set 25-19.
Not taking their foot off the gas, the Toreros took an early lead in the third set. Lopez led the ‘Runners with 11 kills, followed by Coppola and Ifeanyi with eight. Lopez recorded her first double-double of the season with 11 kills and 16 digs. Ifeanyi led the ‘Runners with five blocks, but the defensive front line was not enough to stop a seven-point run at the close of the set as the Toreros capitalized on a hitting error from UTSA and concluded the third set 25-13 with a kill.
Coming out of the huddle strong, the ‘Runners kept the Toreros within a two-point lead at the start of the fourth set. Junior setter Courtney Walters fueled the UTSA offense with 20 assists, and senior libero Mia Ybarra’s defensive efforts led to 22 digs on the back line. San Diego took advantage of three back-to-back attack errors by the ‘Runners to fuel their game-winning run to conclude the set 25-15 and take the match 3-1.
The ‘Runners then faced No. 1 nationally ranked Texas for the second match of the weekend. Starting the first set strong, Texas came out of the gate with a 7-1 scoring run. Keeping the momentum, Texas’ defensive front row kept the ‘Runners from gaining the lead. With a Longhorn lead of 21-9, the ‘Runners turned the tide of a blowout set, going on a seven-point run fueled by three UT hitting errors. Unable to clench the lead, the ‘Runners dropped the first set 17-25.
Holding the Longhorns at bay, UTSA kept Texas from gaining a significant lead early in the second set. Coppola led the team in kills for the match, recording six, followed by senior Kirby Smith with five. The Longhorns’ strong front row out-hit the ‘Runners 33-28 on the match, using their hitters to increase their lead 13-8. Trading points back and forth, freshman setter Mekaila Aupiu led the UTSA offense in assists with 13. Texas secured a 4-0 run late in the set after forcing three back-to-back hitting errors from the ‘Runners before sealing the set with a kill to win 25-15.
Continuing the trend, the Longhorns started the third set strong with a 3-0 run before the ‘Runners regained their footing and forced a service error and a kill to trail 3-4. Keeping Texas within reaching distance, UTSA landed kills from Smith and Alicia Coppedge. Forcing an attack error, the ‘Runners were able to stop a 4-0 scoring run from Texas to trail by five, 10-15. Kills from Ifeanyi and Coppola kept the offense alive late in the set as UTSA recorded 10 kills on the set. Closing the set with a service ace, the Longhorns claimed the 3-0 match win with a 25-15 third set.
The ‘Runners will be on the road to Oxford, Miss. this weekend to compete in the Ole Miss Invitational. The team will face the Ole Miss Rebels Friday, Sept. 3 at 12 p.m. before taking on Northwestern State at 4 p.m. Concluding the tournament with a matchup against Coastal Carolina, the ‘Runners will return to Alamo City to face the University of the Incarnate Word Cardinals Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 6 p.m.