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Lauren Torres (#2) and Madelyn Halteman (#5) celebrate with teammates after securing a win in their final nonconference game. (Courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)

Bulldogs power through UC Irvine before heading into conference play

With Mountain West Conference play set to begin next week, the Fresno State volleyball team heads into the season with confidence after strong play throughout the nonconference schedule.

The ’Dogs defeated UC Irvine Thursday night in a tough four-set match, three sets to one. Fresno State took the first set and was on its way to winning the second set, leading 20-11. But the Anteaters scored 10 unanswered points to tie the game at one set each heading into the half.

Bulldogs head coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said she tried to keep the message in the locker room positive after giving away that second set.

“Other than that run, we win that set,” Netherby-Sewell said. “They didn’t need to hear an earful about that server. So they just came back out and got right back to business and handled it.”

Senior libero Maggie Eppright, recently named Student Athlete of the Week by Fresno State Athletics and Mountain West Defensive Player of the Week, reiterated her coach’s sentiments and said that moments like those will only help the team going forward.

“That’s what preseason is all about,” Eppright said. “There’s always a lesson to take especially when you lose a set. There’s always a reason that you did, and I think recognizing that is definitely what helps us.”

Both teams were playing well offensively, but it was the third set that saw the ’Dogs get settled back in and seize momentum by stepping up on the defensive side. Tied at 23-23, Fresno State won the last two points thanks to a kill by Aleisha Coates and block assists by Madelyn Halteman and Gertu Vider. The Bulldogs carried their purposeful play into the fourth and sealed the match by winning 25-21.

Redshirt freshman setter Madelyn Halteman came up big in the game, providing 34 assists, two service aces, nine digs, one solo block and one block assist. Although one of the youngest players for the ’Dogs, she doesn’t shy away from being called upon to contribute in a major way in every game.

“Being a setter, it’s extremely difficult,” Halteman said. “Just knowing where you’re at, where the team’s at, where you are in the rotations, whom to set and when to set them. Being a setter is kind of like the quarterback of the team.”

At 9-2, Netherby-Sewell likes the team’s mindset and acknowledged that there is still room for improvement.

“One step at a time,” Netherby-Sewell said. “We’ll have a lot more time to prepare for matches than we do in preseason. This team likes information, they like prepping and being ready. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think this team is up for it.”

The Bulldogs start conference play this week with two games on the road. The team takes on Colorado State Thursday, Sept. 22, at 6 p.m. and travels Sept. 24 to face Wyoming at noon.