EL PASO – Over 1,000 fans cheered on the Miners Thursday evening inside Memorial Gym for their fourth sweep of the campaign and initial conference victory. UTEP (9-5, 1-2 Conference USA) posted a season-best .400 hitting clip in the 3-0 (25-18, 25-16, 25-17) win over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks.
“What I loved about tonight was that we just got back to being really physical,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “It was a good team win. I know that our group has been through a lot in the last full week, and so it was good to get a win under our belt. For long stretches, we held up in serve-receive, and we just got really physical and nasty. That’s what I like to see.”
Torrance Lovesee paced the Miners notching eight kills with a match-high seven digs and 10.5 points. Kaya Weaver led the defensive front, stuffing five blocks to go along with three aces and three kills for the offense.
UTEP’s all-around performance held the statistical advantage in kills (41-31), team blocks (11-3), hitting percentage (.400 – .173), and aces (9-2).
SET ONE | UTEP won the opening point of the match. Jax State tied the set 3-3 just before UTEP would dish out a 6-1 run highlighted by two kills and a solo block all by Kaya Weaver to grab the 9-4 lead. Jax State came within two after back-to-back kills, 11-9, and UTEP answered with two kills and a block, 14-9. The Miners took advantage of two Jax State errors to pull ahead, forcing the Gamecocks to take a timeout, but the Miners continued the streak with a kill and solo block by Sakira LaCour, 20-12. Jax State lucked out with three straight UTEP errors to shrink the deficit, but the Miners redeemed themselves with three kills to wrap up the set, 25-18.
SET TWO | Both teams went back and forth to open the second frame. Jax State tabbed a two-point advantage, 8-6, but the Miners took back the lead after three straight points from Sakira LaCour, 9-8. Jax State tied the match at 9-all, but UTEP handed in six unanswered points to stretch the lead, 15-9, with a Jax State ice-out attempt in the mix. UTEP once again handed in a big scoring run as the Miners distanced themselves by nine, 20-11. Jax State had a couple two-point bursts before the Miners slammed in their last two points to win the set, 25-16.
SET THREE | The Miners ran away with the final set as they took the 9-4 lead after three straight kills. Alianza Darley smacked down three straight points for UTEP with Sakira LaCour following her lead midway through the set, 16-9. Torrance Lovesee racked up three kills while Hande Yetis and Alyssa Sianez sprinkled in service aces as the Miners inched their way to wrapping up the match, 21-12. UTEP took a sidebar opportunity after Jax State put up three unanswered points, 21-15. Coming out of the break, the Miners took advantage of two Jax State errors. Heading into match-point point, Marian Ovalle tacked on a kill and Deanna Almaguer went big at the net with a solo block to win the match, 25-17.
Final Thoughts from Coach Wallis
“We were super balanced. We didn’t execute the way that I think we can from a digging and blocking standpoint, but there was growth tonight. We didn’t blow as many assignments. We didn’t do as many ding-dong things. We still just left a lot of plays out there on the floor that I know we can make, but I really liked watching us offensively tonight.
I’m just happy for the team to be able to take a deep breath and have a sigh of relief. We have our family here in town, and we’re going to go spend some time with our families tomorrow as it’s family and parents’ weekend for us. That’s going to be nice, and then we turn our attention right back to Jax State on Saturday in the matinee at 12 p.m. What a heck of a crowd tonight. I’m really proud of our ‘Memorial Maniacs.’ That was a fun crowd and man did we miss them. We need them back out on Saturday, but I’m really thankful to be at home and really excited to see our gym full again.”