San Jose State volleyball opened its season with a 3-0 record following the Spartan Invitational on Friday and Saturday. The Spartans had sweeps of all three opponents, Providence on Friday and then UMass Lowell and Manhattan on Saturday.
Against UMass Lowell, San Jose State had a sweep with scores of 25-21, 25-18, and 25-23. Freshman outside hitter Thelma Grétarsdóttir led the Spartans with 14 kills, followed by sophomore outside hitter Summer Avery with 10 and sophomore outside hitter Giulia Gavio with nine. Outside hitter Latahevai Lousi, also a freshman and younger sister of former Spartan football player Cedric Lousi, had six kills. Junior setter Breann Robinson led in assists with 20, followed by freshman setter Kaitlynn Zdroik with 16 and sophomore libero Luiza Andrade with nine.
In the game against Manhattan, San Jose State won 31-29, 25-15, and 25-20. Avery and Grétarsdóttir each had 10 kills, followed by six from freshman middle blocker Thaliana Grajeda and five from Lousi. Robinson again led in assists with 19, followed by 11 from Zdroik. San Jose State committed 33 kills and 17 errors against UMass Lowell, compared to 36 kills and 24 errors against Manhattan.
San Jose State head coach Jolene Shepardson said that her team excelled in crunch time, as UMass Lowell was threatening to take a lead in the third set, and Manhattan had several late leads in the first set.
“It’s good to be under that pressure, to learn to trust our abilities and trust each other,” said Shepardson.
UMass Lowell began the first set with a 4-2 lead, following a long serve by Zdroik and a block of Grétarsdóttir by middle blocker Lade Adeniyi. UMass Lowell maintained a lead until San Jose State took an 11-9 lead off two service aces by its outside hitter Katherine Claybaugh, who attended high school in Danville, Calif.
The Spartans would never look back from that lead, even as UMass Lowell got 16-16 and 17-17 ties. A set by Delaney Mendez that hit the net increased San Jose State’s lead to 22-19, and it became 23-19 after Claybaugh was called for clipping the net. To end the set, Avery found the gap between Claybaugh and libero Lindsey Visvardis, and Robinson made a block off Adeniyi.
In the second set, San Jose State got to an 11-4 lead, aided by two UMass Lowell serves that hit the net. San Jose State controlled the pace in this set, as its lead remained at least five for the rest of the set. The team improved from a 12-for-31 kill rate in the first set to 19-for-31 in the second, and it showed in the crowd noise, with excited Sigma Chi fraternity brothers in the audience. One kill by Avery bounced away from two UMass Lowell players to the back wall.
The third set proved more challenging. San Jose State had a 23-12 lead, but UMass Lowell would not go away quietly, due to unearned points resulting from San Jose State errors. Two serves by freshman outside hitter Latahevai Lousi hit the net, and Gavio serve sailed wide left. For UMass Lowell, Masha Yelsukova got a kill after the ball bounced off Gama to the floor in front of the net; this narrowed San Jose State’s lead to 24-19. The score then became 24-20 after Grétarsdóttir could not handle a serve by Visvardis, who thusly earned an ace. UMass Lowell narrowed its deficit to 24-23 after two Claybaugh kills and another Visvardis ace, but San Jose State would escape with the win after Claybaugh hit the ball wide left.
San Jose State survived several scares in its first set against Manhattan to win 31-29. Despite leads of 14-3 and 22-16, multiple errors on the Spartans’ part allowed Manhattan to catch up and lead 23-22. With San Jose State trailing 24-23 and on the brink of losing the set, Grétarsdóttir came up with a clutch kill past the reach of Manhattan defender Alyssa Rehrer.
The first set would go on beyond 25 points, as a team needs to score at least 25 points with a two-point lead to win a set. As both teams exchanged leads, members of the men’s basketball team served as the unofficial cheerleading squad and rallied the crowd. Following a 29-29 tie, a long serve by Milena Janjusevic and Grajeda block of Marissa Behrens clinched the first set for the Spartans.
Manhattan took a 2-0 lead in the second set thanks to errors by Grétarsdóttir and Avery, but San Jose State got two points off a Zoe Lindsey serve that landed below the net and wide right shot by Casey Monroe. After Monroe’s wide right shot tied the set at 2-2, Manhattan head coach Mark Jones received a yellow card for arguing an official’s call. Manhattan regained a 3-2 lead after Grétarsdóttir was whistled for net interference, but San Jose State quickly went back in front 4-3 after kills by Avery and Lousi and performed dominantly on the way to a 25-15 win.
In the third set, after trailing 3-1, San Jose State scored six straight to take a 7-3 lead and never gave that lead up. However, Spartan errors continued to make the set within reach for Manhattan at times. Often, errors occurred in pairs, like two consecutive Manhattan blocks that pulled Manhattan within 9-7, and a long serve by sophomore outside hitter Hana Tresnáková followed by a block of Grétarsdóttir that shrunk San Jose State’s lead to 18-15. Then, with San Jose State leading 24-18 and one point away from winning, Lousi hit a shot wide left and against the net. Grajeda then came up with the game-ending kill that a stumbling Sandra Lozanova could only tap out of play.
Regarding the three freshman players who stood out on Saturday, Shepardson also praised her team as having much depth and competitiveness.
“We’re constantly pushing each other, we have some good young talent, and we’re definitely getting better every practice,” said Shepardson.
For an example of where the team can improve for upcoming invitational tournaments, Shepardson cited tempo of sets and blocking skills.
“They know how to do it; it’s more a matter of making it more of a habit.”
By winning all three games, San Jose State won the Spartan Invitational. Providence went 2-1, with wins over UMass Lowell and Manhattan and a loss to San Jose State. UMass Lowell went 1-2, with its only win being against Manhattan, and Manhattan went 0-3. The Spartans next play on Labor Day weekend at the Wolverine Invitational hosted by Utah Valley University, followed by the Houston Tournament hosted by the University of Houston and the SDSU/USD California Mixer hosted by San Diego State University. Mountain West Conference competition begins on September 22 at Wyoming.
Of the Spartans’ next nine opponents, two had top-100 RPI’s last year, Long Beach State (#48) and North Texas (#88). Six had .500 or better records in 2015. Of the Spartan Invitational opponents, Providence had an RPI of #257 last year with a 10-22 record, and UMass Lowell #327 with a 4-27 record. Although Manhattan had a 20-13 record last year, its RPI was just one spot above Providence, partially owing to strength of schedule differences between Manhattan, who is in the MAAC, to Providence in the Big East.