After losing to Brigham Young University in four sets on Feb. 26, the UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team only had to wait two days for a rematch.
Two days to find an answer to the balanced attack of BYU, and two days to work on their own offense.
Unfortunately, two days were not enough for the ninth-ranked Anteaters as they fell to the fourth-ranked Cougars in four sets 30-26, 24-30, 21-30, 26-30, on Feb. 28 at Crawford Court.
‘We just didn’t do a very good job on the left side of the court, blocking and our offense,’ said Head Coach John Speraw. ‘We came out on fire and [freshman setter] Brett [Reid] served a bunch of points to give us a cushion and then really from the second half of game one, all the way through the match, those problems are why they made a comeback and why they beat us.’
UCI started off the match aggressively, and following a block by freshman outside hitter Matt Webber had control of the first set with a 12-3 score. However, the Cougars battled back and the Anteaters trailed 24-26.
Fortunately, BYU’s senior outside hitter Jonathan Alleman committed two net violations and spiked a ball out of bounds and another one into the net to hand the Anteaters the first set.
‘We came out on fire,’ said senior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel. ‘But they came back and matched our intensity and actually overcame it.’
After losing the first set, BYU regrouped and stopped UCI from coming back into the game in any of the following three sets, and had an answer for every Anteater rally. UCI only led once in the following three sets, briefly at 6-5 in the third set.
‘I think we started playing better. That’s the main thing,’ said BYU Head Coach Tom Peterson. ‘[UCI is] a young team. I think at times we capitalized on some mistakes that you’re probably going to make when you’re very young.’
‘We didn’t work up any momentum in those three games that we lost,’ Pelzel said. ‘It was the same trend all three games, just gradually losing a point here, a point there. We weren’t able to fight back.’
BYU managed to keep UCI in check by using a well-rounded offense. BYU’s senior opposite Joe Hillman led all players with 20 kills, and four other Cougars contributed with at least 11 or more kills.
‘I think we’re a diverse offense. That’s the main thing. It’s pretty hard to key in on one guy,’ Peterson added. ‘You just can load up on one guy on defense, and that’s our strength.’
‘Their setter is fantastic. He kept us guessing and our middles jumping all night long,’ Speraw said about BYU. ‘We rarely made a good read tonight out of the middle. Our middles have to do a better job of reading the ball and right now, the last few matches, they haven’t. They’re guessing wrong and instead of simply watching the setter’s hands.’
With the loss, the Anteaters drop to 7-11 overall and 3-8 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, while the Cougars improve to 11-3 and 9-1 in MPSF play. Despite the defeat, the team is trying to look at the losses as something that they can build upon and learn from.
‘We learned a lot of things tonight. We’re just basically taking in all this information that we’re learning and pushing for the end,’ said senior middle blocker Kyle Weichert. ‘Every time that we’re on the court we have to take it seriously and play hard as a team. It’s more about mental errors on our side than anything else, because we have the talent to win.’
‘When we came out of the locker room, there was a belief that OK, we’re going to put it behind us and we’re gonna come back and get ready for the next game,’ Pelzel said.
Pelzel led the Anteaters with 16 kills, followed by freshman outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky who contributed with nine. The team will have six days to improve their game before their next match against 12th-ranked Stanford at Crawford Court on March 5.