The reigning Mountain West Conference champions made a statement Thursday night as the Rebels defeated the San Jose State Spartans in straight sets 3-0.
With the conference tournament next week, at the Cox Pavilion, the Rebels were able to get a win against the Spartans, who were fighting for the one seed in the tournament.
UNLV appears to be playing its best volleyball at the right time, as it took its fourth straight win.
"It’s finally coming together,” senior Mariena Hayden said. “This proved tonight what we have been working on all week, being cohesive with each other and figuring out our team chemistry and tonight really proved that.”
UNLV had to dig itself out of a 12-6 deficit in the first set. Hayden fired in a service ace to get the score closer to 16-15.
As San Jose State made its run back, junior Shelby Capllonch stepped up and had a stretch of three kills while both teams traded back points to keep the Rebels in it.
"She lit it up and she’s fearless at all times,” head coach Dawn Sullivan said of Capllonch. “She will always go after it, whether it’s offense or defense. She really showed up in that first set and the whole match. It was pretty incredible what she did tonight against a very good team.”
A 3-0 UNLV run brought the score back to even 21-21. Both teams traded points through the rest of the set, before UNLV put away San Jose State 27-25 to take the first set.
San Jose State, who defeated UNLV earlier in the year, continued to give the Rebels problems in the second set, as they went up 12-8. Hayden made three straight kills to cap off a 4-0 UNLV run that tied the set 12-12.
The Rebels were not phased, as Sullivan and the rest of the coaches reminded everyone to play UNLV volleyball and believe in one another, like they have been all season when they faced adversity.
"It’s about belief, this team is really coming together, they’re communicating, they’re connecting, and being more consistent,” Sullivan said. “Can they continue to believe in themselves? Nothing else matters than what you believe about yourself, and how you talk and how you act. What we’ve seen from this team the last couple of weeks is that belief coming through.”
Trailing 23-22 late in the second set, San Jose State committed a service error that tied the score. The Rebels blocked two Spartan attack attempts to take the second set 25-23.
With all the momentum on their side, the Rebels controlled the entire third set. They never trailed and finished off the Spartans with a 7-0 run to win the set 25-14.
Capllonch provided a big boost to the Rebels, as she finished with 13 kills to lead the team and a .417 hitting percentage on 24 total attacks.
"I was feeling like ‘let’s go for it,’ because in the beginning of the season we lost to them,” Capllonch said. “And remembering those feelings, it brought a fire within us, all of us wanted to beat them. That’s how I felt every time I went to hit.”
UNLV clinched a spot in the conference tournament last week on the road. Winning those games helped alleviate some of the pressure on the team in its final homestand, but Sullivan is confident in her group, with the experience they have, that they can handle the pressure.
"That’s what you see in this team when it’s time to fight, they’re willing to do whatever it takes to fight and that’s when they really come together, connect, and communicate,” Sullivan said. “It took some pressure off them, but they knew what they had to get done to be where they needed to be.”
Everyone on the team has the experience of what it takes to win a Mountain West title, after winning it last year. And they understand how important a big win like this is with the conference tournament next week.
"It was very important since the Mountain West tournament is coming up,” Capllonch said. “And they are ranked higher than us, so for us beating them maybe we can get a higher seed and have better competition throughout the tournament.”
UNLV returns to action Saturday night to face off against UNR at 5:30 p.m. It will be the team’s senior night and all UNLV students can attend the game for free.