HILO, Hawai'i - The University of California San Diego women's volleyball team opened its season Friday with a pair of wins, defeating Hawai'i Pacific, 3-1, before coming back from two sets down to top Hawai'i Hilo in five at the First Hawaiian Bank Volleyball Challenge on the Big Island.
Following the late contest, it was announced that tourney matches on Saturday and Sunday are canceled due to effects from Hurricane Lane.
For the 17th time in the last 19 years, the Tritons opened their season with a win when they took down HPU by scores of 23-25, 28-26, 25-18, and 25-20.
UC San Diego hit .255 (54-19-137) to HPU's .167 (55-28-162) en route to improving to 17-2 in season openers during its NCAA Division II era (since 2000).
The Tritons' roster features eight first-year players, and several had outstanding debut performances Friday morning.
Junior outside hitter Cindy Tran, a transfer from Concordia in Irvine, led all players with 17.0 points and 16 kills while hitting .406 (16-3-32). Sophomore outside Gina Cortesi, also a transfer (Louisiana Tech), recorded a double-double with 10 kills and 10 digs, while junior outside Sydney Tekstra, yet another transfer (Radford), had a team-high 12 digs to go along with six kills. Freshman setter Brie Severino (San Diego/Torrey Pines HS) finished with 30 assists and freshman libero Susanna Limb totaled 11 digs. Freshman setter Maria Mayhew had 13 assists and nine digs.
UC San Diego had seven service aces and two service errors compared to seven aces and eight errors for Hawai'i Pacific.
"We came out a little nervous and we were down early, so that added to it," said ninth-year head coach Ricci Luyties. "Nothing was flowing, we did not play well in the first set. In the second set, we grinded it out and that was kind of the turning point. From there, we started to find a rhythm and started to play better. The offense and defense kept getting stronger throughout the third and fourth sets."
The Sharks were led by Perla Escobar, who finished with 14.0 points on 11 kills, two aces, and two block assists. Cameryn Collie and Carson Pyle each had 10 kills and Amanda Acosta hit a match-high with 18 digs.
Overall, there were 22 tie scores but just seven lead changes in the match.
In the nightcap against the tourney host, UC San Diego battled from behind to win by scores of 15-25, 19-25, 25-20, 25-23, and 15-7. The Tritons scored 10 straight points in the deciding set to put an exclamation point on their comeback.
Junior middle blocker Jessica Rieble, an all-conference selection last season, had a match-high 20.0 points on 14 kills, eight blocks (two solos), and an ace. She hit .455 (14-4-22). Junior opposite Emily Kimball (Encinitas/San Dieguito Academy) set new career-highs with 13.0 points and 12 kills, while Cortesi collected her second double-double of the day with 12 kills and 11 digs. Freshman setter Maria Mayhew dished out 46 assists and Limb led the Tritons defensively with 16 digs.
UC San Diego hit just .169 (60-32-166) overall, attacking below .100 in sets one and two, including -.033 in the opener. The Tritons upped their mark in each of the next three sets culminating with a blistering .476 in the fifth frame with 11 kills and a lone error in 21 swings. They were also strong at the net with 13 total blocks and held a 76-62 advantage in digs.
UHH (1-1) got 14.0 points from Bria Beale and a match-best 20 digs from Mina Grant. Ashton Jessee had seven blocks (two solos). The Vulcans hit .157 (48-23-159) and made nine service errors.
In the fourth set, Hawai'i Hilo was up by a score of 18-14, but the Tritons battled back and tied it at 20-20 and again at 22-22. In fact, they scored four of the final five points of the set to send the match to a fifth.
"We struggled early, but we never gave up," said Luyties. "We're a long way from where we want to be, but it was a nice comeback against a good team on their home court. I think we can take a lot of good away from this match, but I also know we have many areas we can work on to get better."
It was the first time that UC San Diego had stormed back from an 0-2 deficit to win since Oct. 2, 2014, when it did so at Humboldt State.
The decision to cancel the remaining tournament matches was made because of severe flooding in Hilo and the surrounding areas. Hilo has been receiving one to three inches of rain per hour for over 24 hours. Many roads in town are closed as Hurricane Lane has brought 31 inches of rain to the Big Island.
The tournament's start was delayed due to the hurricane as well. UC San Diego, which arrived in Hawai'i Wednesday, was originally supposed to play Thursday, but the Hilo campus was closed Wednesday afternoon and most of Thursday as the storm approached.
All seven teams competing in the tournament played two matches each. The Tritons were scheduled to take on Chaminade and Saint Martin's Saturday.
Up next, UC San Diego participates in the West Region Showcase, Aug. 31-Sept. 1 at Fresno Pacific. The Tritons will play Chaminade, Simon Fraser, Seattle Pacific, and the host.