Santa Cruz 0
UC Irvine 3
All is right in the volleyball world again.
In their first game since suffering the worst defeat of the season, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team played host to the visiting UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs at Crawford Hall on Wednesday night for a non-conference game. Unfortunately for Santa Cruz, the No. 3-ranked Anteaters used the unranked Banana Slugs to wash the bitter taste of defeat out of their mouths as they easily swept Santa Cruz in three games, 30-22, 30-23 and 30-23.
‘We wanted to come out and play with pride,’ said Head Coach John Speraw. ‘When we step out on that court, we are playing for UCI and we have to remember that. Pride is the basis of competitive behavior and I think we got away from that a little bit.’
Speraw was referring to the disappointing home loss the Anteaters suffered in their previous game at the hands of the No. 13-ranked Pacific Tigers. It was a crippling blow for a team that had just recently returned from defeating the No. 1-ranked BYU Cougars on the road and was looking to build a little momentum as they continued conference play. After witnessing the visiting Tigers celebrating at the center of Crawford Court, UCI got the message loud and clear that it was time to step it up. Santa Cruz would not know what hit them.
The first game was used as a statement for UCI as it came out firing on all cylinders and let the Banana Slugs know that there would be no upset on this night. Behind a kill from seldom-used junior middle blocker Mike Ortiz, who then followed with a spectacular dig that led to another Anteater point, UCI jumped out to a 21-13 lead and never looked back, taking the first game easily 30-22.
With a roster that did not feature a player standing over 6-feet-6 inches, Santa Cruz did not have the talent nor the manpower to keep up with a determined and fired up UCI team.
Game two took up right where game one ended with UCI again gaining the early lead, this time thanks to the blocking of senior middle blocker David Smith and freshman opposite Cole Reinholm, as well as the serving of senior opposite Matt Webber and fellow senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky.
Each recorded an ace in the game and it proved to be a trend as sophomore setter Ryan ‘Ammo’ Ammerman, junior libero Brett Simpson and sophomore opposite John Steller all contributed aces of their own. With the Banana Slug defense having difficulty even receiving serves, UCI led for the entire game and took game two in convincing fashion 30-23.
‘We have to respect our opponent,’ Ortiz said after the game. ‘Santa Cruz isn’t highly ranked but we learned the hard way that if you don’t bring your game every night, you can get knocked down. This was a good learning experience for us and a way to get back on the right track before we head out on the road.’
Game three proved to be a simple formality as the Anteaters jumped out to a commanding 12-4 lead and cruised behind the play of Jablonsky and sophomore outside hitter Taylor Wilson who recorded four and three kills, respectively, in the game.
After reaching game point at 29-19, UCI forced the fans in attendance to stand for longer than they had imagined as it had some trouble putting Santa Cruz away, but was finally able to close the match out on a service error by the Banana Slugs, taking the game and the match.
On that night Webber led the team with 13 kills and three service aces, followed closely by Jablonsky who had 12 kills and two aces. Junior middle blocker Aaron Harrell hit an extremely efficient 5-for-7 on the night and Ammerman set a career-high with 30 assist, allowing senior co-captain Brian Thornton some well- deserved rest.
Overall the team hit .458 and recorded a season-high 10 service aces in the match, giving the Anteaters plenty of offensive fire power.
After Wednesday’s win against Santa Cruz, the Anteaters went on the road and swept Stanford on Friday, Feb. 16 and got redemption for their earlier loss against the Pacific Tigers, sweeping the Tigers on Saturday, Feb. 17.
The Anteaters’ record now stands at 15-3 overall, and 10-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.
UCI will return home to face Cal State Northridge on Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Bren Events Center.