Updated December 1, 2022 - 10:43 pm
UNLV volleyball coach Dawn Sullivan is taking solace in the fact that her players gave it their best shot.
“They didn’t stop swinging. They didn’t get tentative,” the Rebels’ fifth-year coach said. “I think that is what UNLV volleyball is about. We’re going to be relentless. We’re just going to go after it.”
The Rebels’ season ended in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday, as UNLV was swept by No. 7 seed Washington State 26-24, 25-19, 25-18 at Jenny Craig Pavilion in San Diego.
It wasn’t the result Sullivan or her team hoped for, but the loss capped one of the best seasons in recent UNLV volleyball memory, a campaign that included Sullivan’s 100th win with the Rebels, a Mountain West regular-season championship and a second NCAA Tournament berth in three seasons.
“This team is really special,” Sullivan said. “From the seniors all the way to those incoming freshmen, they’ve grown so much this season.”
UNLV (26-5) fell behind in every set before trying to rally.
In the first set, Washington State (23-9) took a quick 7-2 lead, but the Rebels responded with a run, propelled by junior Gabrielle Arretche-Ramos, to go up 12-10. The Cougars weren’t going to let the Rebels run away with it, and with the help of 6-foot-5-inch Katy Ryan, Washington State pulled out the first set.
The second set started similarly for UNLV, in a 10-4 hole. Ryan made her presence known on the block, and Sullivan said the Cougars’ serving kept her team off balance and out of its system.
Washington State totaled 22 block assists and three solo blocks, while UNLV had five block assists and one solo block. The Cougars also served six aces.
UNLV fought back into striking distance at 21-19, but Washington State closed out the set with four consecutive points. An Arretche-Ramos attack error against a Ryan block sealed the set for the Cougars.
The Rebels fell behind again, 11-3, in the final set and lost 25-18.
UNLV got an efficient performance from junior middle blocker Jordyn Freeman, who had five of her team-leading 10 kills during the third set. She finished with a .667 hitting percentage.
Sullivan said this NCAA Tournament experience will be good for her younger players to see the level of consistency they need to make it even further next year.
However, the 2023 season is long way away, and Sullivan was happy to reflect on this team and its achievements. She said the Rebels’ chemistry this season was a particular highlight and mentioned the contributions of graduate transfers Jhenna Gabriel and Ellease Crumpton, along with fifth-year outside hitter Thea Sweder, as key reasons why the team bonded so well and had such a successful year.
“All three of them are just really high-character individuals,” Sullivan said. “They know who they are as people and who they are on the court. That maturity is what helps our team own who they are as people and as volleyball players.”