HAMMOND, La. – The UTEP volleyball team (3-0) knocked off host Southeastern Louisiana, 3-1 (25-20, 25-18, 23-25, 25-22) to win the 2023 Southeastern Showdown Saturday afternoon and secure its second tournament crown since the 2021 season.
“I’m really pleased with our weekend overall,” head coach Ben Wallis said. “There are things about our play that that I am already starting to notice that is becoming more of an identity for us. In three matches in this young season, we are a really physical, high scoring, high flying, tough defensive team and that’s really cool and exciting to see a new identity starts to take shape for this team as opposed to last year and potentially even the year before when it comes to the style of volleyball we want to play or even the personnel on the floor.”
Southeastern Louisiana held a 15-0 record at home before falling to the Washington Huskies in four sets Friday evening and again to the UTEP Miners to conclude the Southeastern Showdown on Saturday.
“It’s exciting to see some really neat, cool things come out of three tough matches,” Wallis said. “To be able to come into a place that Southeastern Louisiana did not lose at all last year at home and to be able to get them on their home floor in front of their home crowd, in the marquee matchup on Saturday to wrap up the tournament that is a good win for us.”
UTEP’s Torrance Lovesee recorded the first double-double of the season as she paced the squad with a match-high 19 kills and career-best 11 digs. Kalia Kohler and Hande Yetis teamed up for 49 assists and four kills, (Kohler-1, Yetis-3). Kaya Weaver posted two career-bests with four aces and four digs. Sara Pustahija matched her career-high of six blocks.
UTEP held the all-around statistical advantage in kills (58-49), blocks (10-8), hitting percentage (.302 – .225), and service aces (11-6).
“We really jumped on them physically and the first two sets and we’re really having our way with them, Wallis said. “And then they (SEL) decided, like a conference champion does, to kick it up a notch and they started pressuring us more from the service line. They punched us a little bit and we were a little bloody lip. And we figured out how to, you know, get back in the third set. At one point, we battled back and blew a couple defensive assignments, but we were good enough at the end of the fourth set to wrap up a tough hard-fought match.
SET ONE | UTEP shredded 16 kills in the opening set. SEL stayed close to the Miners knotting the set at 13-13 before the Miners took off to tab the first set win at 25-20.
SET TWO | The Miners threw a block party to get the jump on SEL. UTEP continued to stay ahead leading 18-12, but the Lady Lions fought back to close in 19-16 forcing a UTEP timeout. The Miners came out on fire to quickly take the second set at 25-18 and a 2-0 advantage in the match.
SET THREE | The pressure was on in set three as SEL took its first multi-point lead on a four-point scoring run, 11-9. The Green and Gold ran with the lead as the Miners fell behind by six. UTEP rallied to put up seven of the last nine points to come within one point of SEL, but came up short, 23-25.
SET FOUR | With SEL looking to stay alive, the final set consisted of two tied scores and two challenges. UTEP’s Coach Wallis’ challenge early in the set resulted in favor of the Miners with a reverse score to lift the Miners, 9-5. The Lady Lions evened the set at 17-all and two UTEP points later SEL’s Coach White challenged the call on a UTEP block which could have been tied the set again but was unsuccessful. The Miners landed three kills moving into match point and UTEP’s Alyssa Sianez came through with an ace in no man’s land for the 25-22 win.
Final Thoughts from Coach Wallis
“We just battled. It was good to see us just kind of battle through a tough match against a conference champion and be able to come out on top. I’m proud of Torrance (Lovesee). She really hit it great today and she was up to the task today. And Sara (Pustahija), I thought was really good as a complete all-around volleyball player. Ali (Darley) was physical, blocking and hitting it. We got a big, long lineup today with Danika (Washington) in the middle and Sakira (LaCour) on the right. But I’m thrilled for our weekend to be able to get this team to three in a row as we are learning more about ourselves. I’m proud of our setters, they did a great job with a lot of a lot of stress and adversity. So that tells you a lot about how complete we are as a team and how dangerous that can be because you cannot just focus on one person or we are going to hurt you in other areas.”
UTEP returns to action as it hosts the Borderland Invitational Aug. 31-Sep. 2. The Miners face San Francisco at 6 p.m. MT Thursday (Aug. 31) in their “915” home opener. Tickets start at $8 and can be purchased through the Eisenberg Family Ticket Office by calling (915) 747-UTEP, emailing email@example.com, visiting www.UTEPMiners.com/Tickets or in person at 201 Glory Road (Brumbelow Building, UTEP campus) Monday thru Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Season tickets are also still on sale. Group tickets are also available for $5 (minimum of 10 tickets).