In a full-throttled attempt to gain a win on March 2, UC Irvine junior outside hitter Steffin Rangel smashed a kill past the UC Los Angeles block to contribute to a tremendous lead of 13-7 in game two.
With UCLA leading the set one game to nothing, UCI commanded game two with a huge win of 30-16. Such a win forced UCLA to receive its lowest point total of the season.
But UCLA eventually regained its stamina and beat UCI in an upsetting four games (30-22, 16-30, 30-22, and 31-29).
But such a loss was refreshing for the 12th-ranked Anteaters who made an impressive effort against the top-ranked team in the nation.
‘[UCLA] was number one in October, number one in January, and they’re still number one,’ Rangel said. ‘And every time we just keep getting closer and closer [to winning].’
And winning is what the Anteaters did in game two. Rangel cashed in an incredible six kills alongside sophomore outside hitter Matt Webber’s four kills, with no attack errors.
Game three started out close as both teams played point to point. With a service ace from UCLA at 11-13, UCI took a time-out.
It was UCLA’s huge offense with 18 kills and only two errors that allowed the Bruins to gain the win, 30-22.
‘[UCLA] played great,’ said sophomore setter Brian Thornton. ‘We played just as good but sometimes things just don’t go your way and I think tonight didn’t go our way.’
With things not going as well for the Anteaters, game four was a close game with a very controversial play, 27-26, where the linesmen called out a kill from UCI that looked to be in.
‘Game four was incredibly disappointing because I think we were playing well enough to win and the reality is that sometimes the refs aren’t going to see some plays,’ UCI Head Coach John Speraw said.
‘It’s not that [the referees] intend to do it. It’s just the reality in sports and that was a bad game and it hurt us. We would have been up 28-26 and I think that would have been enough to win it,’ Speraw said. ‘I told the guys it happens and they need to move on, and I thought we did. We sided out right away, we kept on battling, but obviously that point made a big difference.’
Although the Anteaters kept the points close and tried to keep up with UCLA with a strong offense and defense, UCLA fought to win against UCI, 31-29, in the last set. Even after falling to the Bruins the Anteaters still kept their heads up and were very optimistic about the future.
‘We’re good,’ Thornton said. ‘As a team I think we’re making great improvements but we have a long way to go.’
Even UCLA Head Coach Al Scates had nothing but good things to say about the improvement he saw from UCI.
‘Coach Speraw did a great job,’ Scates said. ‘These guys get better and better every time. I hope they get into the playoffs [because] they’re obviously working hard.’
As UCI continues to battle, Speraw looks toward bigger and better things.
‘We served really well and passed really well, and UCLA is not necessarily a great passing team,’ Speraw said. ‘We are battling in a good way, but I would love to just see some wins.’
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