NORTHRIDGE — Paula Weishoff and Don Mattingly could share notes these days.
Both the UC Irvine women's volleyball coach and the Los Angeles Dodgers manager are well-versed on the virtues of defending the opponent, while also struggling to score enough to win.
For the Anteaters, their determination to provide defense helped them take early leads in all four sets of a Big West Conference match at Cal State Northridge on Saturday. But only once did the hot start produce a victory as the Matadors claimed a 19-25, 25-16, 25-22, 25-16 triumph that kept them tied for first in conference with national power Hawaii.
It was a 5-0 lead in the opening set that proved singularly protectable as the visitors (9-10, 0-5 in conference) blew leads of 3-1, 8-1 and 4-0, respectively in subsequent sets to drop their sixth straight match.
Two nights after producing a season-best 101 digs in a five-set loss at UC Davis, UCI once again leaned on its deployment of two back-row specialists flanking freshman libero Arden Davis in the back row. And while 5-foot-8 junior Molly Yoder mad a match-high 15 digs, the 5-9 Davis had 10 and 5-7 junior Hannah Nabbout chipped in six, their zero combined attacks left the Anteaters a little short on offensive punch.
Marisa Bubica, a 6-2 sophomore outside hitter, had 10 kills on 21 swings for a glistening hitting percentage of .381 for UCI, which has now lost 13 straight conference matches.
Season kills leader Aly Squires, a 6-1 senior outside hitter had 10 kills, but hit just .075 on 40 swings.
Arielle Manz, a 6-4 junior middle blocker had seven kills (hitting .278) and her three block assists matched Bubica for team-high honors.
Shannon Fleming, a 6-1 senior middle blocker, had two solo blocks and two block assists. She chipped in six kills and hit .125.
Freshman setter Shelley Anderson had six kills on 11 attempts (.545) and contributed 34 assists and a team-best three aces.
Freshman Cassidy Pickrell and junior Allison Lee came off the bench to provide five and two kills, respectively. But Pickrell hit negative .158 and Lee hit .000 to contribute to UCI's .162 team hitting percentage.
By contrast, Cal State Northridge (15-3, 5-0) hit .248 as a team and its 53 kills were seven more than UCI's total.
UCI had 54 digs, just four more than the winners, but Weishoff was happy with her defenders.
" I thought our defense was really good, and also our serving and blocking, at times," said Wieshoff, who guided UCI to two of its five 2012 victories against the Matadors (a sweep at UCI and a four-game road verdict). "But our outside hitting tonight wasn't great. We didn't get enough kills."
Weishoff, however, said her team's ability to seize early leads before fading against Northridge, indicates the players are continuing to work hard to turn things around.
"Our girls are battling," Weishoff said. "Last year, I would go home after matches and not sleep. This season, I go home and know we are going to get better."
Cieanna Stinson had 13 kills and hit .400 to pace the winners, who also received 11 kills each from Natalie Allen and Mahina Haina. The Matadors have won five straight.
"Irvine serves real well and they are a good blocking team," said Matadors Coach Jeff Stork, a former Olympic gold medal setter and the father of UCI men's volleyball setter Daniel Stork. "Obviously, they faded a little bit late, but they played well. I was thankful to come out on top.