The UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team rebounded from being swept by Long Beach State last Friday by beating 14th-ranked UC San Diego on Feb. 14 in straight games, 30-25, 30-26 and 31-29 at Crawford Court.
With the win, UCI improved to 6-8 overall and 3-6 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. The Tritons fell to 5-7 overall and 2-5 in league play.
The Anteaters, ranked eighth overall in the nation, held on to the lead and maintained their concentration in the game’s closing minutes, prompting praise from Head Coach John Speraw.
‘I think it shows a lot of focus to come in after losing like we did last night to Long Beach [State] and beat a good team in three [games],’ Speraw said. ‘We were really able to turn our attention to San Diego and give them the credit they deserve. They’re a very good ball club.’
UCSD remained persistent throughout the match and the third game went right down to the wire, with numerous ties and lead changes. Although UCI opened with a kill by senior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel in the third match, they immediately fell behind 2-1 after Triton senior Kevin Keyser served an ace. The teams switched leads after almost every play from then on. Every time one team scored on a block, the other responded with a kill.
Freshman setter Brett Reid and freshman middle blocker David Smith combined for a block to put UCI ahead 23-21. However, their momentum was stopped by a UCSD timeout. San Diego came back to tie the game at 23-23 and then pulled ahead after a block by seniors Andy Rupp and Jim Waller.
Several plays later, when UCI was serving for the match at 29-28, there was confusion on the game-winning point that resulted in a replay.
Senior outside hitter Spencer Bemus’ serve went wide, which tied the game again at 29-29. Pelzel had a kill for the Anteaters and then combined with Smith for a block that gave UCI the victory over UCSD, 31-29.
Pelzel, an All-American, led all players with 20.5 points and 19 kills. Asked about the team’s performance, Pelzel said, ‘[It] was good enough to win. We made some errors, like hitting balls wide. But we pulled it out in the end and that’s what really matters.’
The Anteaters led early and were able to hold on to win the first game, 30-25. The second was much closer between the teams, with the difference in the scores rarely going beyond two points.
An error by UCI gave the Tritons their 26th point in the second match but Smith closed it out with a big kill to win the second match 30-26.
Reid had another impressive night, accounting for 46 of the team’s 50 assists for the whole game, while committing only three errors.
‘Everything just flowed today,’ Reid said. ‘We had some good blocks, and my middles were on time.’
Reid also collected six digs and eight blocks for a total of five points. Smith finished with seven blocks, some of which were the key plays in the waning moments of the match. His fans, including teammate Reid, felt that his blocking helped UCI gain their fifth win overall.
‘He had like, three blocks in a row that totally [shifted the momentum],’ Reid said.
‘[Reid] started doing some things that we’ve been asking him to do for a while, and it started to pay off.’
Bemus finished second in team points with 15 points and 13 kills. Pelzel and senior libero Greg Ford had the most digs with seven each.
As the season reaches its halfway point, Speraw feels that there is room for improvement in some areas.
‘We’re not doing very well in league play right now and while this is an important victory, we need some more league wins,’ Speraw said. ‘Our blocking is going to be okay, but our hitting is clearly where we need to improve.’
UCI will play in a tournament in Springfield, Mass., before coming back to Crawford Court to play BYU on Feb. 26.
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