After winning against British Columbia during an exhibition game on Dec. 30, the UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team (2-3) had less than a week to prepare against Cal Baptist.
But a week was not enough to score a win as UCI was swept by Cal Baptist, 24-30, 24-30, and 17-30 in both their season opener’s at UCI’s Crawford Court on Jan. 5.
Errors followed UCI all night beginning in the first set when the ball was immediately served into the net to give the Lancers a 0-1 lead. Eventually those errors did not just affect the Anteaters, but the Lancers as well; both teams totaled 37 errors in just three games.
UCI Head Coach John Speraw saw Wednesday’s loss as an opportunity for growth within this young team. Its leadership lies in the hands of four juniors as there are no seniors in this Anteater squad.
‘[Today’s game was] a terrible effort on our part but it’s early in the year and this is a great opportunity for us to be a great volleyball team,’ Speraw said.
But to be great always requires hard work.
‘We’re always building to be better, and I still expect us to be a good team come MPSF,’ Speraw said.
An outstanding dig by outside hitter Steffin Rangel while UC Irvine was down 15-16 in the second set displayed the type of solid defense that Speraw hopes to build upon.
New team captain and junior outside hitter Paul Spittle led UCI’s offense by being the only Anteater to reach double digits with 11 kills.
‘My expectation every time is to play tough, but unfortunately [tonight] we lacked focus,’ Spittle said. ‘We didn’t dig many balls and hit very well. [We needed] consistency, but we’re growing up and this shows that we can improve.’
Although UCI put in the hard work, unstoppable blocking by Romain Vetter and Sergio Rose of the Lancers in the third set posed a threat and eventually helped Cal Baptist come up with the win.
Speraw knows that his team is the underdog, composed of young players that lack the experience that other teams with senior players have, like the Lancers team which has four seniors on its squad.
‘We have to come out here and fight like hell. We are the underdog and to be successful in the league, it will not be from experience and talent, but it will be from heart,’ Speraw said.
UCI’s junior transfer and outside hitter Steffin Rangel led the team defensively with five digs and sophomore setter Brian Thornton had 33 set assists. Sophomore middle blocker David Smith put up six kills for the night for UCI’s offense.
Smith believes, ‘This team is really good and [we] have a lot of raw talent. Our goal throughout the game is to put 100 percent but we didn’t have everyone’s head in the game, especially toward the end.’
Smith agrees with Speraw that the desire to win and succeed with heart will lead UCI to victory this season.
‘I don’t think it takes all talent and skill, but more effort and emotion,’ Smith said. ‘That just wasn’t there tonight. We have the potential, but tonight we just did not have it.’
UCI will begin Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play against UCLA on Jan. 15 at Los Angeles.
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