NIVC Tournament Central
STOCKTON, Calif. -- UC Irvine hit .337 while limiting the Hornets to a .062 mark on the way to a 3-0 victory (25-16, 25-19, 25-10) over Sacramento State in the first round of the National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) on Tuesday evening at the Spanos Center.
Tonight was the opening night of the NIVC, as six of the 16 first-round matchups took place this evening. The remaining 10 first round games will take place tomorrow. At the Stockton Regional are Sacramento State, UC Irvine, Boise State and host Pacific. UC Irvine (23-7) advances to tomorrow's second round to face the winner of tonight's Boise State/Pacific match while Sacramento State's season comes to an end with a 26-10 overall record.
The NIVC, which is the equivalent to the basketball NIT, offers bids to teams that do not qualify for the NCAA Tournament. The NIVC was originally played from 1989-95, and is making its return this season. Sacramento State received an automatic berth into the tournament after winning the Big Sky Conference regular season championship. The Hornets' bid to qualify for the NCAA Tournament ended with a 3-2 loss to North Dakota in the Big Sky Tournament championship match last week at the Nest.
Despite the season coming to an end tonight, the Hornets had an incredible year which included winning the Big Sky's regular season championship, hosting the conference tournament, tying a program record with a 15-1 Big Sky record, and posting three winning streaks of at least six games long. The team also won the Big Sky's South Division title for the second straight year while going 11-2 at home and 10-3 on the road. Setter Kennedy Kurtz became the first Hornet to earn Big Sky MVP accolades since 2007 while outside hitters Shannon Boyle and Mikaela Nocetti joined her on the first team, and middle blocker Lana Brown was named second team all-league.
In tonight's match, Sacramento State had a season-low 22 kills and no Hornet finished with more than four kills. The Hornets were held under a .100 hitting percentage (.062) for just the second time all year, were swept for just the third time, and the team's 45 points were the second lowest tally of the season. UC Irvine, which finished third in the Big West Conference with a 10-6 league mark, had 23 more kills (45-22) than the Hornets and hit .337.
The Anteaters used two runs of 6-0 in the first set, and posted a 14-0 run in the third set. Sacramento State and UC Irvine were deadlocked at 14-14 in the second set, but Irvine closed the frame on an 11-5 run.
For Sacramento State, it marked the first time in recent memory the team failed to have a player record more than four kills. Brown had four kills, six blocks and a .333 hitting percentage while Nocetti and Boyle were both limited to four kills apiece. For Nocetti, it ended a streak of 15 straight matches with double figures in kills for the junior. The four kills were season lows for both Boyle and Nocetti.
Brigitte Murdock and Boyle had a team-high eight digs, Sarah Davis had three kills and four blocks, setter Kennedy Kurtz had three kills, nine digs, 18 assists and a .333 hitting percentage. The national leader in assists, Kurtz's 18 assists were easily a season low for the senior setter. Brie Gathright had two kills and two blocks, and Skyler Takeda had an ace and three digs.
For Irvine, Harlee Kekauoha had a match-best 14 kills and .370 hitting percentage, Makayla Wolfe had 10 kills and a .471 hitting percentage and Luna Tsujimoto had 12 digs and four of the Anteaters' eight aces.
Tonight also marked the end of the collegiate careers for an impressive crop of Hornet seniors that included Kurtz, Boyle, Murdock, Hannah Meadows, Julia Wright and Erin Cochran.