The ‘Dogs (17-7) met the Utah State Aggies (14-9) in a Mountain West conference matchup in front of the Red Wave fans on Nov. 3 at the Save Mart Center.
The ‘Dogs came into the game off a two-game losing streak and were looking to get a win against a struggling conference opponent. The Bulldogs have had a historic season and were looking to use the opportunity to gain ground on the Mountain-West leading Colorado State.
In the first set the ‘Dogs looked locked-in. After scoring on the first volley they did not relent, scoring with a barrage of kills and smothering the Aggies at the top of the net. The ‘Dogs led for the entirety of the set.
The Aggies made a run to close the gap on the leading Bulldogs towards the end of the set, digging their way out of a six-point deficit to close bring the score to 24-21, resulting primarily from Fresno State’s attacking errors and a few mental mistakes.
But it was not enough. After a Fresno State timeout to regroup, the ‘Dogs returned to immediately deliver a kill, and secured the first set.
The Aggies scored first in the second set, but the ‘Dogs quickly answered back. The set opened with a back-and-forth battle, with both teams tying the score, not allowing the opposition to gain ground. The Aggies managed to hold a two-point lead as the teams exchanged attacks.
The Aggies had their largest lead of the set, going up 12-8 against the ‘Dogs, before a timeout allowed the team to regroup and find its rhythm.
They came back strong. Three quick scores brought the ‘Dogs within one at 12-11, causing the Aggies to call a timeout of their own. It didn’t slow down the ‘Dogs. A couple more quick scores gave the ‘Dogs a 13-12 advantage.
A series of volleys had the two teams trading points before the ‘Dogs climbed to a three-point lead at 17-14. The ‘Dogs looked to be back in control as they reached a 21-15 advantage, but the Aggies answered back to get within a point of the ‘Dogs at 24-23.
However, the ‘Dogs never lost their composure, and a kill from senior Jessica Gilbert sealed the second set.
In the third and final set Fresno State had the momentum, quickly gaining a 5-2 lead. At 8-3 the ‘Dogs had trouble finding the hardwood on the opponent’s side of the court, and despite some great defensive efforts from Bulldogs senior Taylor Slover and freshman Kava Durr, the Aggies managed to tie the set at eight points apiece.
It seemed that the ‘Dogs were their own worst enemy, as their stifling defense denied the Aggies’ attacks, but attack errors from the ‘Dogs handed points over to the opposition.
But Slover would not be denied, tying the match 11-11 with a kill set up by junior Madelyn Halteman. Errors were the story of the set, as the ‘Dogs maintained solid defense, the errors allowed Utah back into the set, as they went up 14-11.
The ‘Dogs were able to tie the set at 14 after a barrage of attacks and some stifling defense, prompting a Utah timeout.
The timeout failed to deter the ‘Dogs’ momentum, and they quickly went ahead of the Aggies. Until a Utah block brought them within three at 18-15.
The ‘Dogs must have taken this personally, because a heated volley resulted in an emphatic kill by Aubrey Folk to get the ‘Dogs up to a 19-16 lead. The ‘Dogs had their rhythm at the end of the set, as Slover seemed to be everywhere on the court, covering the hardwood with a blanket of digs.
The defensive effort seemed to charge the ‘Dogs’ offense and a series of attacks had the Bulldogs rolling, and an ace serve from Bulldogs’ Reagan Leonard solidified a match the victory for Fresno State with a three-set sweep.
The ‘Dogs played fundamentally sound on both sides of the ball, with an outstanding defensive effort from Slover and Leonard.
“Defense inspires people more than offense does, quite honestly,” Slover said. “You’re taking away the other people’s kills. It’s so much better to fire up your team with your defense than your offense.”
However, errors by the ‘Dogs allowed Utah opportunities to make the match more competitive than it otherwise might have been.
“We hit too many balls out of bounds. I thought we served well, we blocked pretty well and we just hit too many balls out of bounds,” said head coach Jonathan Winder. “We weren’t perfect tonight, but we’re trying to learn how to compete as a group.”
The ‘Dogs will start a two-game road trip against conference opponents New Mexico on Nov. 8 and UNLV on Nov. 10, during which they will try to ride the momentum from this win to gain ground on the Mountain West leader Colorado State as the season nears its end.
“We just want to continue to get better and reach our potential,” Slover said. “Up to the very last match this season we’re going to keep on learning and getting better.”