Aggies too much for Bears Volleyball -- for now
GREELEY -- UC Davis finished sixth in the Big West Conference last season, but its final-season RPI (114) was good enough for third in the Big Sky, behind Northern Colorado (84) and Portland State (105).
So, the Aggies -- the Bears' opponent Saturday night in the 2011 Hampton Inn & Suites Northern Colorado Classic -- provided a great benchmark for Northern Colorado head coach Lyndsey Benson to compare her team with early on in the 2011 season.
The returns weren't terrific, but they weren't bad either.
Sure, UC Davis (3-0) won in five at Butler-Hancock Sports Pavilion (25-15, 26-28, 13-25, 25-21, 16-14), but there was a lot to like in the Bears' play in just their second match of the season.
Northern Colorado (1-1) got off the mat after a punch to the chin in game one and led by as many as six points (21-15) in game two before holding on for a win and an intermission tie. The Bears then blitzed UC Davis out of the locker room and seemed in complete control and well on their way to a second consecutive Northern Colorado Classic title.
But the Aggies produced a revival of their own in game four and showed poise and smart play the rest of the way to sweep their way out of Greeley and provide Benson and her program a lot of motivation and teaching points for next week's practices.
In a scheduling quirk, the Bears will finish Classic play at 4 p.m. tomorrow in Boulder against Colorado (1-1), but Saturday night's match was the tournament's de facto championship, and Davis earned its trophy.
"Our goal was to win it, so that goal is shot," Benson said, "but, certainly, it's a quick turnaround and we've got to be ready to go tomorrow against CU.
"We're not going to talk (tonight) about this match (against UC Davis). I think the lesson taught itself tonight. We'll talk about it a little bit on Monday because there are some things we can learn from this early in the season, which is exactly what we needed. We certainly would have liked to be on the other end of it, but that's what our team needed right now is that match."
The Bears, the 2011 Big Sky Conference preseason favorites, are loaded with a great nucleus of veteran and newcomer talent. A quick watch of their play in their two season-opening matches this season quickly reveals the necessary ingredients for a deep and successful postseason run.
It's just that the intangibles aren't quite there yet.
The Bears put on a dominant display for much of game two and all of game three Saturday, showcasing just what they're capable of when putting it all together. They committed just four attack errors in the two games and threw down 31 kills, posting hitting percentages of .364 and .440.
Northern Colorado hit just .130 combined in its three losses, though.
"We're going to be in this situation again," Benson said, "so we need to learn from it the hard way this time and be ready for these five-set matches again. We just made dumb errors late in game four. I thought that's where the match needed to be won, was late in game four, and a few service errors and passive plays let them win it."
Offensively, Northern Colorado had four players reach double-figures in kills, with junior Kelley Arnold leading the way with 15 and super freshman Andrea (ON-dray-uh) Spaustat contributing 14 on .423 hitting. Senior Breanna Williams and sophomore Alyssa Wilson had 12 apiece.
The defensive numbers were good, too, with five Bears notching at least 10 digs, including juniors Jill Dawson and Marissa Hughes each scooping 15, and Williams (14) and Arnold (12) getting to enough to record double-doubles.
Service errors were a problem area for Northern Colorado, though, with UC Davis committing just two, while the Bears had 14.
And the Aggies had a great blocking night, too. They only recorded three and a half more than the Bears for the match, but they sent a stern message in game one with a 7.5 blocks to Northern Colorado's none.
"Going into the match, I thought if there's one skill that was going to make the difference it was blocking," Benson said. "So, that was definitely (a factor) in game one. But as the match went on I thought we matched them block for block. I thought we hung with them, blocking-wise, in games two through five. But in game one, they were a great blocking team, and we weren't ready for that coverage."
If nothing else, Benson had to leave the match feeling somewhat giddy with the play of Spaustat in just her second career collegiate match. After seeing scant floor time Friday in the Bears' 3-0 win against UNLV, Spaustat, a freshman from Omaha, Neb., played early and often Saturday night against UC Davis.
And she more than held her own. It didn't result in a victory, but she showed what she's capable of, and she did it against high-level competition.
Just like the Bears.
There was no win to be had Saturday, but there were a lot of positives to build on.
"This was a good matchup for her," Benson said. "They didn't defend the slide very well, which is her best set. So, that's the reason we went with her, and she certainly executed and did a great job. We're just seeing a glimpse of what Andrea Spaustat's career is going to be."
Added Spaustat: "Coming in (to UNC) I was really nervous, but these girls are amazing, and they really make you feel really welcome and like you've been playing on this team forever. The first couple games, you just want to get (the nerves) out of your system and play like you've been playing your whole life. It felt amazing out there tonight."