Pioneers Fall to [RV] Michigan State in Aztec Invitational Opener
Denver will face Marist and San Diego State on Saturday to close out tournament
Aug. 26, 2016
SAN DIEGO – After a rough start to the first match of the year, the University of Denver volleyball team fought hard with [RV] Michigan State this afternoon to open the 2016 season at the Aztec Invitational.
The Pioneers (0-1) dropped the first set to the Spartans (1-0), rallied in both the second and third sets, but ultimately fell in the opening match at Petersen Gym by scores of 25-13, 25-23, and 27-25.
“After shaking off our nerves in the first set, I feel we played extremely well competing with a tough top 25 team in Michigan State,” said coach Tom Hogan. “This may not be the result we were looking for, but this match has inspired our team and has shown us that our process is working and our growth is real.
“We are excited to compete tomorrow as we turn all of our focus and attention to Marist and San Diego State.”
The Pioneers got off to a fast start in the opening set as Becca Latham notched the first point of the match off a smooth pass from Piyusha Boteju, while Cassie Baird tallied two kills of her own and Ruth Okoye stuffed a swing from Alyssa Garvelink to put Denver up 4-1 early on.
However, the Spartans had other plans as Chloe Reinig recorded three of her match-leading 13 kills, along with a service ace and a block assist, in the midst of an 8-1 run to put DU on its heels with a 9-5 deficit and forcing a quick timeout from Hogan to quell the momentum.
The break in play appeared to have the desired effect as Reinig’s serve went straight into the net to resume play, but Michigan State proved hardy enough as they rallied off nine of the next 11 points for an 18-8 advantage.
Baird briefly put DU back on the board as she struck her second of three kills in the set for an 18-9 deficit, but the Spartans held too much momentum and eventually held on for the first win of the season at 25-13, prompting a side swap on the court.
Set two sung a different tune as Michigan State held an early 7-3 lead thanks again to a pair of Reinig kills and two block assists from Megan Tompkins, yet the Pioneers remained close behind from a handful of Michigan State errors to put the score at 7-6.
The back-and-forth continued as the Spartans never saw a lead greater than four points and Denver clawed its way back into the game after facing a 14-10 shortage to tie the set at 17 apiece thanks to a timely block from Kayla Principato and Emma Willis, strong kills from Principato and Latham and another block from Latham and Okoye.
DU stayed within two points through the remainder of the set, forcing ties again at 21-21, 22-22, and 23-23, but the Spartans had the last say as Holly Tolliver recorded the 24th point with her second kill of the match and followed up with a hot-handed serve slicing through the Pioneers’ back line to clinch the second set at 25-23 for Michigan State.
Set three started off the same as Denver faced a 9-6 disadvantage early on, but rallied for their best run of the night at 7-1 thanks to four Spartan errors, a kill each from Principato and Moni Corrujedo, and a tandem block from Principato and Okoye for a 13-10 Pioneer lead, prompting Michigan State’s first timeout of the set.
DU stayed one step ahead at 17-16 as Principato, Willis and Nola Basey added a kill each to their match totals, but Michigan State fired off three quick points off two Tolliver aces and a Tompkins kill for a 19-17 lead.
Denver responded with three points of their own thanks to a kill each from Latham and Corrujedo, to go with a Michigan State error, for a 20-19 lead, but the Spartans added three more points to their total for a 22-20 lead late in the set.
The Pioneers stayed within one point at 23-22, but Michigan State ramped up the pressure with Garvelink’s eighth kill of the night for the first of two match points.
DU parlayed both points easily, forcing a Spartan attack error to close the gap at 24-23, while Baird extended the contest with her fifth kill of the match to knot the score at 24-24. A Denver service error gave Michigan State their third match point at 25-24, but Latham gave her team another chance with her seventh kill of the contest for the ninth tie of the set at 25-25.
Reinig added her final kill of the night to give the Spartans a 26-25 lead, and the fourth match point proved to be the last as Tolliver ended the match with one swing of her arm to cement the match at 27-25 and squashed Denver’s hopes of starting the season with a win.
Principato and Latham each recorded seven kills to lead the Pioneers, while Principato added four block assists and a .375 swing percentage to complement Latham’s lone block assist and two digs in the match.
Okoye tallied three kills with no errors for a .375 hitting percentage, to go with a solo block and four block assists to establish her presence on the net.
Boteju and Monique Domme split time running the offense as Boteju finished with 15 assists and eight digs, while Domme added 12 assists and six digs of her own.
Reinig led all players with 13 kills for Michigan State, combined with a .360 attack percentage, one solo block, three block assists, three digs and one service ace.
Garvelink was not far behind with eight kills and a .312 swing percentage, along with her lone block assist, while Rachel Minarick drove the Spartans’ offense with 29 assists and two perfect attacks.
The Pioneers will remain in San Diego for one more night as they face Marist in the first match of a doubleheader at 2:30 p.m. MT, followed up with a match against San Deigo State at 6 p.m. MT to close out the Aztec Invitational.
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