MERCED, Calif. – Menlo College Women's Volleyball had not seen game action in nearly a week, but they settled into their hardest contest of the season. The UC Merced Bobcats gave Menlo everything they had across five competitive sets, but the Oaks came away winners for the fourth time in five tries this season. The five-set win is the first non-sweep the Oaks recorded this year, while the Bobcats fall to 0-2 on the very young season.
The Oaks came out of the gates showing no signs of rust, having not played a match since the William Jessup Invitational. Menlo opened the game on a 7-2 run, thanks to some hot serving from Moea Kekauoha. She tallied a service ace and a kill during a five-point run in the middle of that stretch, helping the Oaks get out to the early advantage. That would be the theme during the entire first set, with the Oaks cruising along and never in real danger of losing the lead. 12-6 would be as close as the Bobcats got after that opening run, with the Oaks getting production from up and down their lineup. Sierra Buscher had a streak of serves going in the middle of the set, and Maggie McDonald got her hot night with multiple kills in the opening set. Fittingly enough, a pair of Kekauoha kills in the final points brought the set to a close, with the Oaks taking it 25-16.
Set two was much tighter throughout, though the Oaks did have a chance to pull away from UC Merced at one point. Both teams traded early blows, en route to a 9-8 Menlo lead, but the Oaks were able to string together some points. Buscher tallied a service ace to give the Oaks some momentum, and then following a McDonald kill and some attack errors from the Bobcats, the Oaks had a 17-11 lead. That's when Menlo began to make some mistakes of their own and let the Bobcats back in the match. Four consecutive attack or set errors from the Oaks put the Bobcats in front 19-18. Menlo reclaimed the lead after back-to-back aces from Buscher, to make it 22-20. That's when the Bobcats kicked it into another gear and were able to put away the Oaks. Satele Salamasina recorded an ace and Rachael Schaefer tallied the winning kill, allowing the Bobcats to take four of the final five points and win the second set 26-24.
Menlo got their mojo back in the third set, taking it in convincing fashion by the end. Again, the Bobcats hung around in the early portion of the set, but the Oaks never trailed after falling behind 2-1. With Hannah Hudson serving, the Oaks rattled off five straight points, including one ace from Hudson and kills from Buscher and Emily Sunada. Menlo made its run in the middle of the match, with an 11-10 lead at hand. Bailey Gamez launched a kill which began a Menlo run that saw them score five of the next six points, with Gamez tallying another kill during the stretch. Attack errors would then be the story down the stretch for the Bobcats, with several mistakes piling up over the final few points. They were never able to recover and the Oaks won the third set 25-20.
Another back and forth set commenced in set number four, and this time it seemed like the Oaks were going to be able to pull away with a four set victory. Unfortunately, the Bobcats were able to once again muster up a rally late to sneak past Menlo. The Oaks trailed for a majority of the early stages in this set, but with Buscher serving for the Oaks, things began to change. Down 11-9, Menlo rattled off four straight points to pull ahead 13-11, thanks to an ace and a kill from Kekauoha. Menlo held this slight lead late into the match, up 20-18 after another in a long line of big kills from McDonald. But then, the Bobcats struck. They took the final seven points of the match with Madison Mayoralgo serving, and three straight kills from Schaefer. The Bobcats forced the decisive set with the 25-20 victory.
The Oaks struck first in the final set, scoring the first three points with Monica Hruby serving. She recorded an ace and McDonald and Buscher both recorded kills. Menlo continued its early dominance pulling ahead to a 6-2 advantage with some help from another kill by Gamez. It became a team effort to finally finish off UC Merced, with a bevy of players tallying kills over the final points. UC Merced got as close as one point to make it 14-13, but one more McDonald kill sealed the deal at 15-13.
McDonald led the way for the Oaks with 15 kills and was one of three Oaks to tally double-digits, along with Kekauoha (14) and Buscher (13). Sunada slotted in fourth with 8 kills. Hruby led all Oaks with 32 assists, four Oaks had at least 10 digs (Buscher led with 22), and she also led with four aces.
Menlo will not be in action until the following week, same time of the week. The Oaks will also square off against UC Merced once more, but this time it will be played inside Haynes-Prim Pavilion. The home opener for Menlo is set to begin at 7:00 PM and will be streamed live on the Menlo College Sports Network.