The Women’s Club Volleyball team at UC Irvine had a roller coaster of a season. The 2022-2023 campaign started off rough as they dropped down a division from D1 and into D2. This new division consisted of schools such as UC Riverside, Point Loma Nazarene University and Cal State Fullerton, who would soon become their rival.
The disappointing start was not their last let down of the season.
With some exhilarating wins against top schools such as UCLA’s A-team, the girls quickly built their confidence. But after disappointing losses against teams they should have handled with ease, that confidence started to waver. This pattern continued throughout the season and the frustration kept building up, although they eventually found their stride.
While the ‘Eaters didn’t fare well outside of league play, they ended the regular season within the top eight of their division, qualifying for the Southern California Collegiate Volleyball League (SCCVL) Championship. However, it took place the first weekend of spring break, and many of the girls had either gone home for the week or left for vacation. They lost three key starters, which led to a hole in their lineup. After hearing this news, their only coach left them high and dry, believing that with so much of the team missing, the remaining girls wouldn’t stand a chance of competing.
With no coach and only seven players — six is needed to play a volleyball game with no subs — the girls headed down to Alliant University for the tournament. The team didn’t expect much as they headed into the first match, but came out with a win. And then another. And another.
These seven girls came together as a team and found a way to fight and grind out a second place finish, only losing to Cal State Fullerton. While the loss stung, the team was pleasantly surprised with themselves and the final result. Lacking their coach and the depth they typically rely on, they showed an extraordinary amount of grit and determination to advance to the championship of the tournament.
After the tournament, senior president and outside hitter Reisha Ladwa reflected on her team’s performance.
“We didn’t let it discourage us from doing our best,” Ladwa said. “Every member of the team really stepped it up, exhibiting resilience and adaptability throughout the tournament. We had great communication, exploring various lineup combinations to identify the most effective one.”
After league championships came the big one; the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation (NCVF) National Championship in Kansas City, Miss. The thrill of placing second in the SCCVL Division 2 tournament made the team confident for the upcoming national event. However, they still couldn’t forget the frustration of the regular season and the disappointment of losing in the league championship to their rivals. They carried all these emotions to Kansas City, ready to take on the best in the nation.
Many on the team had their doubts on how they would perform after a regular season full of ups and downs. The tumultuous year culminated on the last day of nationals, April 15. The girls found themselves in the gold bracket of Division 1 AA, the second division from the top, after achieving first place in pool play during the past two tournament days. Their first match against the University of Illinois Illini A-team proved challenging at first, but they soon made easy work of the Illini, advancing to the second round. They had little time to celebrate their win, as they prepared for their quarterfinal match.
The quarterfinals was their toughest match yet, battling a red-hot Clemson University team. Clemson started fast and strong, taking a commanding set 1 victory, 25-16. The girls knew things had to change in the second set and with the season on the line, they had to leave everything on the court.
Clemson carried their momentum into the second set, jumping out to an early lead. The Anteaters started a comeback behind the arm of junior outside hitter Madeline Li, who got the team to within a few points. All was in vain, unfortunately. A late-game blunder by the Anteater head coach led to the team running out of substitutions (12), locking seniors and star players out of the game.
With players locked into the wrong spot, Clemson went on to win the match and eventually won the Division 1 AA championship. The ‘Eaters landed themselves a fifth place finish, the best finish at nationals for them in years. Senior opposite hitter Gina Johnson saw national acclaim, being named to the All-Tournament Second Team, and sophomore setter Leia Minter was named an Honorable Mention.
In an interview with the New University, Ladwa discussed her thoughts on the season.
“The season as a whole was filled with unforgettable moments and a bond among teammates who share a deep passion for volleyball,” Ladwa said. “Our journey culminated at nationals, where we proudly secured the fifth position, a testament to our unwavering dedication and hard work.”
The Women’s Club Volleyball team at UCI now has its sights set on the 2023-2024 season. With a handful of seniors graduating and a few of the girls planning on studying abroad next year, the squad is looking at a substantial rebuild. The reins of the club are being handed to junior opposite hitter Myra Saffo and middle blocker Eileen Cannon, who will be co-presidents for the next season and have a full vote of confidence from Ladwa.
“I am confident the club will thrive under the leadership of Myra Saffo and Eileen Cannon as they assume the role of presidents in the upcoming year,” Ladwa said. “Throughout this season, their proactive involvement in assisting me with club matters showcased their dedication and capability.”
Evan Marks is a Sports Intern for the spring 2023 quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.