ATHENS, Ohio – The UTEP Volleyball team (5-1) brought the thunder Thursday evening in a thrilling five-set comeback win over Ohio, 3-2 (13-25, 25-21, 21-25, 25-20, 16-14), to open the Bobcat Invitational.
“We just grinded – we really did,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “This wasn’t our best because Ohio came out and smacked us around a little bit and we weren’t ready to execute. But our team stayed resilient. It was a good team win.”
UTEP’s Sara Pustahija and Torrance Lovesee put up double-digit kills with 15 each. Pustahija only had one attack error out of 34 attempts to post a .412 attack percentage. Kalia Kohler and Hande Yetis combined for 46 assists.
UTEP’s comeback performance held the statistical advantage in hitting percentage (.261 – .231) and aces, (9-6), but were out hit in kills (53-61). UTEP posted .300+ attack percentages in sets 2, 4, and 5, along with a .267 in the third. The Miners popped off with double-digit blocks (11) as Alianza Darley led the match with six and Danika Washington followed with a personal-best five blocks.
“We threw Danika (Washington) into the mix, and she had a really big impact on the game with her personality and work ethic. She’s been working hard and I’m so proud of her,” Wallis said.
SET ONE | Ohio had an explosive first set as it opened the match at 6-0. The Bobcats took full control of the set, always leading by a minimum of six points. Ohio forced a UTEP timeout at 23-13 but were unphased and knocked out the last two points to win the set, 25-13.
SET TWO | Quite a change of pace for the Miners in the second set as they pressured Ohio to commit five errors as they entered double-digits to lead 10-9. The teams went back and forth mid-set as the Bobcats gained the lead compelling UTEP to take a timeout, 17-19. The Miners whipped out a 6-1 scoring run heading into set-point but gave up two to the Bobcats just before Torrance Lovesee smacked one down to get even, 25-21.
SET THREE | At one-a-piece, the third set consisted of four lead changes. Ohio jumped out to an early lead but a challenge from UTEP’s Coach Wallis reversed the score to give the Miners lead change No. 1. Lead swaps No. 2-4 happened on big scoring runs: Ohio handed in a 4-0 run then the Miners responded with a 5-1 run just for Ohio to comeback with their 6-1 run to pull ahead, 15-12. The Miners and Bobcats ping-ponged for the next 18 points until Ohio got the second set win on an ace, 25-21.
SET FOUR | The fourth set was a doozy as the Bobcats had their eyes on wrapping up the match here, but the Miners were determined to give themselves a chance to play a fifth set. Ohio forced itself to sidebar after two errors giving UTEP the 11-10 lead but came around to knot the set at 16-all. Pustahija and Lovesee combined for UTEP’s last four kills and more Ohio errors sealed the set win for UTEP, 25-20, forcing the deciding set.
SET FIVE | The pressure was at an all-time high entering the final set; even in a shortened set there were still nine tied scores and four lead changes. Both teams led by no more than two points: the Miners at 5-3 and then the Bobcats at 10-12. UTEP pulled away with a 4-0 run entering match-point. The Bobcats did not give up as they tied up the set at 14-14, but UTEP’s Lovesee signed, sealed, and delivered two final kills for the comeback win.
“We talked about grit prior to the match and what it means, what do you need to have grit and be a gritty team,” Wallis said. “We didn’t have that grittiness last year, and now we are starting to see it with this group. We have people that are ready for the moment. All-in-all it was a cliché team win but everybody made plays when we needed them to, and we found ways to do some really cool stuff to earn this victory.”
UTEP will go up against William & Mary on day two of the Bobcat Invitational Friday, Sep. 8, at 2 p.m. MT.