While vying against a formidable slate of foes, the University of Redlands women's volleyball team more than doubled the program's wins from the previous year. With new talent, hard work, and determination, the Bulldogs captured a 13-14 overall mark to go along with their best Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCAIC) record since 2010 at 4-12.
Redlands came out firing with a 6-2 start to the season by the end of the first week in September. The Bulldogs traveled to nearby Claremont to compete in the Pacific Coast Classic where they went 3-1. Against Mt. Aloysius College (PA), the team cruised to a straight-set triumph without trailing by more than two points at any given time, which resulted in an impressive 25-12, 25-19, 25-10 to start the tournament. Leading the offense, junior outside hitter Melanie Fyda (Chicago, IL) knocked down six kills at a clip of .385 as one of 12 Bulldogs to record at least one kill. Later in the day, Redlands overcame Franklin & Marshall College (PA) in a four-set victory by scores of 25-18, 25-14, 17-25, 25-18. This proved to be a high-quality win for the Maroon and Gray, as F&M went on to qualify for the NCAA Division III Championships in November. In the teams' September meeting, sophomore defensive specialists Ally Busch (Long Beach, CA) and Emily Vankoll (Moraga, CA) provided 30 digs collectively in the winning effort. After building early leads in each set, the Bulldogs continued to roll with a 3-0 showing against Union College (NY) by scores of 25-17, 25-23, 25-19. In the much-tighter second stanza, Redlands put together its most effective set on offense with a .268 hitting percentage off 14 kills. Junior outside hitter Christina Casey (Sherwood, OR) finished the match with an impressive .500 effort with nine kills on 16 attempts.
After dropping a four-set decision to Brandeis University (MA), the Maroon and Gray doubled its 3-1 record at the Cal-Lu-Fornia Invitational in Thousand Oaks a week later. Equipped with Head Coach Lisa Lindberg's minor lineup tweaks, Redlands persevered in a five-set result against in-region Whitman College (WA). First-year setter Tati Luevano (San Pablo, CA) stepped up as the primary setter in a 5-1 rotation and dished out 36 assists in the extended win. Tough serving also proved to be a key component, as Vankoll initiated nine points in a row from the service line during the opening set, which propelled the Bulldogs from a 16-21 deficit to a 25-21 victory. Against UC Santa Cruz, the Maroon and Gray orchestrated an efficient three-set triumph, with the offense erupting for a .300 hitting percentage in the final two stanzas. First-year outside hitter Natalie Starlin (Las Vegas, NV) found hardwood on seven occasions to highlight the success of the Bulldogs' 19-player rotation in the match. The final day of the tournament included split results with a sweeping win over Willamette University (OR), with Fyda, junior middle blocker Sofia Olsson (Cupertino, CA), and Starlin providing key points off the attack. With the offense firing on all cylinders, Luevano also found success by distributing the ball to junior right-side hitter Maloree Kupp (Sunnyside, WA) and junior middle blocker Michaela Rappa (Roseville, CA). Overall, Fyda led the onslaught with a .769 hitting percentage off of 10 kills.
Unfortunately, the Maroon and Gray's hot start ended there, as it dropped seven of its next eight matches, including a five-set heartbreaker to Pomona-Pitzer Colleges. In the home-opener in Currier Gym, the Bulldogs saw a two-set lead slip away against a stubborn Sagehen squad. One bright spot from the loss was sophomore middle blocker Hannah Lanyon's (San Diego, CA) five blocks, which complemented Busch's 24 digs from the back row.
Redlands' final win of September came in three sets against the Caltech Beavers on September 28. After a tight opening set, the Bulldogs rolled to victory by scores of 28-26, 25-16, 25-16. Olsson, Lanyon, and senior setter Jackie Andrade (West Seattle, WA) rattled off kills early on before first-year outside hitter Paige Davidson (Spanaway, WA) served big points to help establish the Bulldogs' momentum. Fyda and Olsson each recorded eight kills in the win, with Olsson knocking them down at a rate of .571 without an error.
Although the Bulldogs fell to Whittier in an incredibly tight five-set thriller, they received noteworthy contributions from various players, including Fyda with 18 kills and Kupp with 11. In addition, junior setter Emily Marty (Chula Vista, CA) dished out 31 assists for her season-high mark.
Redlands responded to this hiccup by uncorking four wins in a row to start the month of October. The stretch began with a 3-1 decision over Nazareth College (NY) at the Leopard Invitational. Amidst the back-and-forth battle, Kupp paced the Maroon and Gray with eight kills, while Starlin, Casey, and Lanyon each put down seven. Davidson impressed with four service aces. On October 7, Redlands earned wins over non-conference foes Mills College and Manchester University (IN) during a tri-match in Currier Gym. In the sweep of the Cyclones, the Bulldogs used early leads to pull away for the 25-11, 25-16, 25-18 victory. Lanyon impressed with a .688 hitting percentage off a season-high 11 kills. After a flat start to their match against Manchester, the Bulldogs rallied with solid wins in the subsequent sets to earn the comeback, 22-25 25-16, 25-18, 25-10. Kupp unleashed a career-high 13 kills on 26 attempts for a solid clip of .462. With heart, enthusiasm, and skill, Redlands capped off its four-match win streak by taking down the then-second-place Panthers of Chapman University in SCIAC action. The high-caliber match included ridiculous rallies that showcased the versatility and depth of each squad. Late in the contest, Luevano blasted a key service ace before dishing out the assist on Fyda's final two kills, which sealed the deal for the Maroon and Gray's big victory. Fyda finished the night with 12 kills, while Casey and Lanyon registered 11 and 10, respectively. Busch stepped up with 29 digs, as Luevano and Marty dished out 28 and 20 assists, respectively.
However, the Bulldogs' momentum ran out steam in their next four matches against formidable SCIAC foes. One of these losses came against Occidental College on Senior Night, as the Bulldogs recognized the contributions of their lone four-year player, Andrade, in a short pre-match ceremony.
Redlands dug deep to close out the season by winning two of its final three matches to secure the program's best conference record since 2010. First, the Bulldogs captured the season sweep of Caltech with the second win resulting in a 25-20, 25-17, 25-19 decision on the road. Casey fired off a match-high 13 kills, which came off a .500 hitting percentage without a single error. Kupp added seven kills on a .462 attack, as Luevano ran the offense by distributing 35 of the team's 44 assists. Redlands made it two in a row with a 3-1 comeback victory over Occidental to avenge its earlier loss to the Tigers. During the second meeting, the Bulldogs orchestrated a comeback victory in four sets. Despite trailing in the first, the Maroon and Gray created some momentum with quality kills by Casey, Fyda, and Olsson late in the stanza. Redlands carried this energy into the subsequent set and built a 14-8 lead off of a persistent defense and crafty kills. From here, the Bulldogs cruised to the victory over the conference foes. Casey and Fyda combined for 23 kills, while Busch supplied 27 digs and Luevano offered 24 assists.
Upon conclusion of the season, Olsson landed among the Redlands all-time top-10 list for total blocks in a career at 165 through three years of competition. In addition, Busch's 464 digs for the 2018 campaign place her fifth among the single-season list at Redlands.
Although Andrade's contributions will be missed, the Redlands women's volleyball team looks forward to the return of its hearty crew of competitors with another season of experience pushing the team forward. With hard work, determination, and commitment, the Bulldogs hold high hopes for raising the bar on the program's standards for success while eyeing a return to the upper echelon of the SCIAC and beyond.