The UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team was down two games to one as UC San Diego stepped onto the court for the start of game four.
It was now or never in Crawford Court for the Anteaters to make a move and either prove victorious and send UCSD back home or fall defeated.
Fortunately, UCI was able to pull away from UCSD in five sets, 30-23, 28-30, 27-30, 30-26, 15-9, after surviving the fourth set
At the opening of game four, freshman middle blocker Aaron Harrell immediately put down the fierce aggression UCI needed to turn the game around.
With a quiet audience earlier, Harrell caused a lot of uproar by knocking down a kill and setting up a block for a great start of 2-0.
‘It was tough coming off the bench because I wanted to come out there and bring some fire on the court,’ Harrell said. ‘So I just had to go out and play tough.’
And playing tough was what made the difference for UCI as things started to pick up in game four.
After Harrell’s first two points, UCSD came up from a net violation against UCI to get on the board at 4-1, but could only squeeze in four more points, as UCI’s offense planted kill after kill to force them to a time-out at 10-5.
Junior outside hitter Steffin Rangel helped put UCI on the board by giving them three consecutive offensive kills at 8-5, 9-5 and 10-5.
‘It’s nerve-wracking until the very first kill,’ said Rangel. ‘Once I get my first kill, block, ace or my first good play, [then] that’s crucial for me.’
In game four alone, Rangel came up with four kills and four digs, whereas in game three he had not recorded any kills, digs or serves.
Before game four, UCI immediately won game one at 30-23, thanks to a strong offense from junior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, junior libero Paul Spittle and sophomore outside hitter Matt Webber.
UCSD squeezed by in games two and three for both wins. In game two, both teams were tied at 28-28 as the Tritons, with a kill and a block, put the Anteaters down by winning the set at 28-30.
Game three was tied at 27-27, as again UCSD managed to outplay UCI.
A kill from the Tritons that was touched by UCI’s Rangel went outside of the court and a net violation from UCI helped UCSD take the win at 27-30.
But game four was UCI’s time to shine. Thanks to the defense that was starting to pick up as sophomore setter Brian Thornton came up with seven digs following Spittle’s 11, UCI was able to create crucial offensive moves against UCSD.
Leading the team with a total of 15 kills, Jablonsky’s performance helped lead UCI to a win in game four, 30-24.
Now with the game tied at two matches apiece, the game would now go into a fifth set.
Game five had amazing services from freshman outside hitter Jon Stellar, who helped the Anteaters secure a safe lead against the Tritons at 7-3. UCI took the match at 15-9 for the win that night.
‘I’m going to have to hand it to Stellar in this case [at game five],’ said UCI Head Coach John Speraw. ‘He really went back out there and served a bunch of balls right off the bat that gave us a nice cushion, and obviously when you have a lead like that in game five it is a real advantage.’
UCSD gave UCI quite a scare tonight, as it was the Anteaters’ incredible tenacity in games four and five that helped lead them to a win.
‘There was a good effort on both sides, [but] in the fifth game [UCI] played really well,’ said UCSD Head Coach Ron Larsen. ‘They came in and didn’t make any errors. We started off badly and they played great.’