UTRGV volleyball falls against Grand Canyon in WAC tourney

Courtesy UTRGV Athletics

The No. 3-seeded UTRGV volleyball team lost 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-19) against No. 2 Grand Canyon (GCU) Lopes in the semifinal round of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Tournament Friday at Lockhart Arena in Orem, Utah.

UTRGV (19-12) was led offensively by junior outside hitter Claudia Lupescu’s 11 kills. Lupescu notched her third double-double as she also tallied a career-high 14 digs with three blocks. Juniors Perris Key and Margherita Giani both had eight kills on .316 hitting, with Key adding 10 blocks for her eighth double-double. Senior middle blocker Luisa Silva Dos Santos tabbed four blocks and four kills. Junior setter Luanna Emiliano notched her 20th double-double with 31 assists, 10 digs and three kills. Junior libero Kiaraliz Perez added 13 digs and five assists.

Tatum Parrott led Grand Canyon (22-7) with 15 kills and had 11 digs. Ashley Lifgren added eight kills and Alissa Uhlenhop led GCU’s solid blocking effort with eight blocks. Klaire Mitchell had 32 assists and 10 digs.

Grand Canyon took a tight first set, 25-22. The Vaqueros fell behind early and after a 4-0 run by the Lopes, UTRGV trailed 18-14. Throughout the frame UTRGV fought back in a set that saw six ties and four lead changes. Lupescu and Key were sharp, hammering home heavy hits to spark a late run. Key and Santos combined for a block and Lupescu recorded one solo, getting within 21-20, but GCU closed the set strong.

The Lopes were in control to open the second set, taking a 12-2 lead and keeping the Vaqueros out of sorts. Emiliano’s effort brought the Vaqueros back, starting with some hustle plays to keep rallies alive for Lupescu to notch a pair of kills. Then, Emiliano’s serving led to a 7-0 UTRGV run as the setter tallied two aces and forced GCU out of system, resulting in attack errors.

Junior outside hitter Ilana De Assis tabbed a pair of kills to bring the set even at 17-17, then UTRGV took its first lead at 19-18 after a tough serve from freshman defensive specialist Isa Bento led to an over pass that Emiliano sent back for a kill. The teams traded points through the back end of the frame and were knotted at 22-22 after Key ripped a kill into the deep corner, but GCU scored three in a row to go up 2-0.

Grand Canyon again jumped to control the third frame, leading 8-3 after a 7-0 run. The Vaqueros battled back well, led by the veterans in Emiliano, Giani, Key and Lupescu. Emiliano dropped her third ace to get within one and was hustling all over the court. Key served well and used smart shots to keep UTRGV close, and Giani showed her ability up the middle. But GCU’s block kept the lead at four through most of the set and came up big in the end to secure the win.