UC Merced got a taste of where Allen McCreary hopes his squad is headed on Thursday night.
UC Santa Cruz doesn't possess overwhelming size or hitters that leap out of the building. The Banana Slugs are just smooth and steady.
Composed as a single unit, Santa Cruz showcased the polish the Golden Bobcats still seem to lack in a 25-15, 24-26, 25-16, 25-20 victory at Hostetler Court.
"They're just a very calm team out on the court," McCreary said. "They don't let things rattle them.
"We're very high strung by comparison. We tend to ride the emotion of a match and that's why we can be very up and very down."
UCM (10-7) struggled to even ride those positive emotions on Thursday night, digging itself big holes in all four sets.
Behind the consistent play of Elena Echeverria (team-high 14 kills), Amber Glaab (12 kills, team-high 17 digs) and Morgan Ehritt (12 kills) the Slugs (18-4) raced out to a 9-3 lead and never trailed in the opening set.
That carried over into a 6-1 start to the second set.
McCreary turned to middle blocker Jade Garrett to provide some much needed energy. He was hoping not to play the junior who has been bothered by nagging knee injuries, but had his hand forced.
Garrett (3 kills, 4.5 blocks) responded with two quick blocks and a kill as UCM fought its way back into the set with a 5-0 run. Valeria Martinez (team-high 16 kills, 16 digs) helped even things up with six kills in the set.
It didn't seem to matter.
Both teams acted as if the second set never happened, and UCSC went right back to work, building a commanding 19-9 lead and cruising back into the lead.
The fourth set went back-and-forth the whole way. Martinez trimmed the lead to 21-20 with her final kill, but the Banana Slugs closed out the match with a 4-0 run.
"I think tonight was a learning experience," Garrett said. "We have to take the court with energy every time and we can't get so high or so low.
"We were just off today."