The 12th-ranked UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team lost to third-ranked Pepperdine 30-22, 28-30, 30-24, and 30-27, Jan. 21, in a hard-fought match at the Bren Events Center.
UCI, which beat USC 3-1 two days earlier, fell back to 2-5 overall and 1-2 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. The Waves improved to 3-1 in both overall and league play.
The presence of three-time All-American outside hitter Sean Rooney, as well as Pepperdine’s dominating size, proved to be too much for the Anteaters.
Rooney led all players with a game-high 20 kills. Teammate Andy Hein also contributed 14 kills for the Waves, whose starters, excluding 6-foot-2 setter John Mayer, ranged from 6-foot-7 to 6-foot-10 in height.
‘They’re the biggest team in the league,’ said UC Irvine Head Coach John Speraw. ‘They have the best player in the country [in Rooney] and [the other players] were just real big and physical.’
Pepperdine easily won the first game, in which they led by as many as 10 points.
‘We were a little tight to begin the match, yet we came back in the second game,’ Speraw said.
UCI jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second game due to two errors committed by the Waves and a kill by junior libero Paul Spittle. At 8-8, Rooney scored on two consecutive kills that prompted Speraw to call a time-out.
The Anteaters stayed close behind, with Spittle tying the game once again at 13-13 with a service ace. The two teams continued to trade points, as players made key plays for both sides.
But Pepperdine never trailed for more than three points throughout the rest of the game. With game point on the line at 29-27, Rooney had another kill to make it 29-28.
Spittle responded with a kill to put game two away. Spittle would go on to finish with 13 kills and seven digs.
His intensity drew praise from teammate and sophomore middle blocker David Smith.
‘That’s the reason why [Spittle is] our captain,’ Smith said. ‘He’s so full of energy and he wants to be in there, and he found the holes to put the ball away.’
Said Spittle, ‘I try to come in and be a role player out there, and do what I need to do.’
It looked as if UCI had kept the momentum, as they had an early 4-1 lead and held onto it for most of the third game. However, the Waves tied it at 20-20 before taking the lead for good.
‘We started off kind of slow, but we came out fighting in the second game, and we were still in there even in the fourth game,’ Smith said.
Pepperdine would go on to prevail. In the final game, Rooney started off with a kill and ended the match with a service ace.
According to Speraw, there is definitely room for improvement for the team.
‘I think we’re passing better, and our serving game has also improved,’ Speraw said. ‘Our [middle blockers] need to get better at reading the block, but they’re learning.’
Four Anteaters finished with double digits in kills. Freshman outside hitter Jon Steller and sophomore outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky each collected 14, while Smith contributed 11 and Spittle made 13.
‘We’re young, and we’re just going to keep on getting better,’ Spittle said.
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