The house always wins in Vegas | Head Coach Malia Shoji wins first four home games under UNLV

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Olivia Mikkelsen serves the ball in a dominant 3-0 victory against Southern Utah. Photo by DJ Cabanlong.

Head coach Malia Shoji and the Rebels came home to the Cox Pavilion for the first time this season and her career at UNLV.

Tuesday vs. Southern Utah

The Rebels (5-4) faced the Thunderbirds (3-5) Thursday evening and finished in dominating fashion, 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-18).

UNLV set the tone in the first as its hitters got rolling early and often. The Rebels outhit the Thunderbirds 15 to 7, while Southern Utah struggled to minimize errors as the team recorded more errors, eight, than kills. The Rebels claimed the opening set 25-16.

“It was a really great team effort,” Shoji said.

Up 1-0, the Rebels carried over its success into the second with an incredible 16-kill set. UNLV only recorded two errors in total to finish the set with a 0.5 hitting percentage, which gave the Rebels the edge, 25-21.

With several 3-0 runs in the third, UNLV capitalized offensively as junior outside hitter Madi Kelly tallied six total kills in the last half of the third. Kelly’s eruption helped the Rebels sweep the Thunderbirds with a convincing stamp on the final set, 25-18.

Shoji earned her first career home win with UNLV.

“This team is a joy to work with…it is really nice to be home,” Shoji said. “It’s the first time for our staff, but the team was really excited, and they were like, ‘just wait, just wait,’ and it didn’t disappoint, that’s for sure.”

Thursday vs. Coppin State

UNLV (6-4) played its second game of the week at home and opened the Pavilion’s doors for the UNLV Tournament against a strong Coppin State squad (8-2). The Rebels recorded its second sweep at home as the team took care of business 3-0 (25-17, 25-15, 25-21).

Despite having a strong record, Coppin State could not find an answer to UNLV’s incredible receive, as CSU struggled to record kills. The Rebels had as many service aces as the Eagles had kills, five. UNLV found its rhythm to finish the first on top 25-17 in the first set.

“Our attackers did a great job of staying aggressive throughout the match,” Shoji said.

UNLV’s dominance was evident, but CSU’s struggles were at the forefront of the second. The Eagles ended in the negative with a -0.12, hitting percentage, as the team finished with only four kills and seven errors. CSU gave UNLV the second set 25-15.

Entering the final set, CSU showed heart, but its efforts were too late. The Rebels ended on a high note with a match-high 19 team kills in the third. Redshirt senior and outside hitter Isabel Martin, who led the game in kills, tallied seven of her 17 in the final set. UNLV completed the sweep 25-21.

“We were just so ready,” Martin said. “We need those moments [third set adversity] because we are gonna face harder teams. If we prepare ourselves right now, it’s going to be easy for bigger teams.”

Friday vs. Portland

The Rebels (7-4) began day three against the Pilots (5-6) for the second game for UNLV in tournament play. UNLV continued its winning streak versus Portland in the only match to lose a set at home this season, 3-1 (25-19, 20-25, 25-18, 25-21).

UNLV opened the match perfectly. The Rebels did not record a single error during the first set, which set up a 25-19 win.

Despite not losing a set at home, UNLV stood in its own way. The Rebels racked up five errors in the second, and Portland flipped the script, stealing the second set, 20-25.

“Our team is very big on our culture,” senior setter Arien Fafard said. “When we have that positivity, that’s usually when we play our best.”

Tied 1-1, the Rebels opened the third on a 4-0 run. Feeding off of the energy within the Cox Pavilion, UNLV doubled down and went on an 8-0 run to distance the score 20-10. UNLV took the third, 25-18, to go up 2-1 in the match.

“We fight offense with offense,” Shoji said. “Instead of trying to make the perfect pass and the perfect set, we were trying to give ourselves options and trust each other along the way.”

Finishing the game with five monster blocks, UNLV closed out the final set with several 3-0 runs. The Rebels claimed the fourth 25-21.

Portland was the only game in the opening week at home to oust UNLV in any major category. The Pilots recorded more aces than the Rebels, 10 to 6.

Fafard recorded a match-high 23 assists, which was her best during the week. 

Saturday vs. Lamar

The last game of the UNLV Tournament and at home for the week came against a winless Lamar (0-11) squad. The Rebels (8-4) flew past the Cardinals 3-0 (25-5, 25-15, 25-13).

A complete domination in all phases of play for the Rebels. UNLV was as close to perfect as it gets. The Rebels recorded a match-high 16 team kills while not committing a single team error in the first; meanwhile, the Cardinals only recorded three team kills and accumulated five team errors. UNLV took the first set with ease, 25-5.

During the second set, more than doubling Lamar, UNLV outhit the Cardinals 15 to 7. Kelly led the game in kills with 11. UNLV won the second 25-15.

UNLV finished the final set with great service. The Rebels tallied six of its 12 aces in the third. Redshirt junior setter Jenna Howard led the game in aces with five and assists with 18. UNLV completed the sweep, 25-13.

UNLV had five 5-0 runs over the course of the match against Lamar.

“We stay together as a team,” Fafard said. “It starts with us…we want to make history. We want to win conference and make a deep run in the [NCAA] tournament.”

Up Next

UNLV remains home as they open up conference play on Tuesday, Sept. 19, against San Diego State, and Sept. 21 versus San Jose State. Both matches begin at 6:30 p.m.

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