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Beach volleyball struggles in opener

The UTEP Beach Volleyball team headed to the University of Arizona to take part in the Cactus Classic for opening weekend, Feb. 24-25. Photo courtesy of UTEP Athletics

In the team’s inaugural season, the UTEP beach volleyball team (0-4) headed to the University of Arizona to take part in the Cactus Classic for opening weekend, Feb. 24 and Feb. 25.

The Miners tried their best to defeat the Pacific-12 Conference foes, but ultimately fell in the end to the University of Oregon (1-3, 0-1 Pacific-12 Conference), Arizona State University (ASU) (3-1,1-0 PAC-12), No. 18 The University of Arizona (4-0) and Colorado Mesa University (1-3). 

Since its announcement last spring, this is the first time anyone gets to see the Miners beach volleyball team in action.  

“It’s really exciting. It’s been a couple of years coming.  When I first got the job in 2019, Jim (Senter) and Julie (Levesque) approached me about this, and we started putting our brains together about a way we could make a really competitive, exciting beach volleyball program here in El Paso,” said Head Coach Ben Wallis in a question answer interview with the University of Texas at El Paso Athletics Department. “They want me to be the Director of Volleyball to run both programs initially, with some thought down the road that we could potentially hire a beach-only coach. But for right now, I’m going to run both programs. I think we’ve got a really neat financial plan for the program, and the opportunities here in El Paso are pretty endless for beach volleyball. Most people don’t realize that the state of Texas has a really big beach-only population. There are really good beach-only clubs across the state that are ready to send recruits and prospects to El Paso to play at UTEP.” 

For its first season, the Miners have included the talents of several indoor volleyball players such as Alianza Darley, Mattie Gantt, Ema Uskokovic, Sara Pustahija, Serena Patterson and Marian Ovalle. 

During Friday’s matchup the Miners lost all its games against the Colorado Mesa Mavericks and the University of Arizona Wildcats.   

Against Arizona, freshman Krista Paegle and junior Katie Martin fell to the Wildcats, but had the smallest point difference with scores of 21-19 for both sets.

Freshman Sara Pustahija and sophomore Ema Uskokovic were the only pair to force a third set in their close matchup versus the Arizona Wildcats. 

In game two against the Mavericks, the Miners set the standard by winning the first sets of courts three and four. Unfortunately, it was not enough to come out on top. 

“Tough day in the beach volleyball world for the Miners,” Wallis said. “Against two good opponents in No. 18 Arizona and Colorado Mesa, who is the defending 2022 NCAA DII champions. Both opponents have completely different styles of play and while we competed well in both matches, we came up short in both but showed a lot of progress and growth against really good beach volleyball teams.” 

Saturday, Feb. 25 the Miners were looking for a comeback against the Oregon Ducks and the ASU Sun Devils but came up short. 

Against the Ducks, the Miners were able to take three games to three sets but received the short end of the stick losing all five games. Against ASU, the Miners also failed to find momentum, losing all five games again. 

“We really learned a lot against four quality teams this weekend,” Wallis said. “We weren’t hurting for talent, athleticism, or tactics, and that was evident. We’re just a long way away in the skill and experience departments. It was nice to get out and compete against teams other than ourselves and be able to measure our strengths—what we’re good at—but more importantly, what our weaknesses are and where we need to be better at in the coming months.”  

The UTEP Miners are set to travel March 10 and March 11 to compete in the CaliforniaState University-Bakersfield Tournament in Bakersfield, Calif. 

All stats provided by UTEP Athletics,

Itzel Giron is the editor-in-chief and may be reached at [email protected]; @by.itzel.giron on Instagram; @itzel_anahi_16 on Twitter.

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About the Contributor
Itzel Giron
Itzel Giron, Editor-in-chief
Itzel Giron is a senior multimedia journalism and creative writing student at UTEP. She started her journalistic career at The Prospector in the fall of 2021 as a staff reporter and is now editor-in-chief. Thanks to The Prospector and her tenacity, Itzel has had the opportunity to be an intern with KVIA Channel 7 at El Paso. Itzel is also a freelance journalist, and her work has been published in The City Magazine, Borderzine and Walsworth Yearbooks. After graduation, Itzel hopes to continue her passion of journalism by working in broadcast television reporting on politics, entertainment and news.
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Beach volleyball struggles in opener