Long Beach 0
UC Irvine 3
Behind solid play from its four seniors, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team took care of business against long-standing rival Long Beach State on Friday, April 13, at the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters easily won in three straight games (30-25, 30-21, 30-19).
Last year the squad was upset in three games by the 49ers in the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. However, that was not the case this time around.
The Anteaters came out firing in game one, establishing a quick 10-3 lead. After cruising to an early lead, the 49ers formulated a small rally of their own and tied the game at 20-20.
The Anteaters called a timeout, regrouped and got their act together. After junior libero Brett Simpson aced a serve to put the Anteaters up 27-23, UCI never looked back, winning the game 30-25.
The Anteaters and 49ers went back and forth to begin game two. Sophomore outside hitter Taylor Wilson and senior opposite Matt Webber both opened with aces to put UCI up 11-8. After junior middle blocker Aaron Harrell sniped home the third ace of the game, UCI expanded its lead to 13-9 and ‘The Beach’ was forced to call a timeout to kill some of UCI’s momentum.
The first play back from the timeout brought a little scare for the team and 1,726 fans in attendance. Webber took a nasty dive onto the press table to keep a ball alive. Webber remained on the table for a split second before fellow senior setter Brian Thornton lifted him up and offered some words of encouragement.
Although Webber failed to save the play, the effort and gesture from Thornton showed the true character of this squad and the importance of the seniors to this team.
Inspired by Webber’s dedication, the Anteaters rallied and led 28-18, which featured five impressive digs from sophomore libero Brent Asuka and back-to-back ace’s from Webber. With senior middle blocker David Smith’s towering kill, the Anteaters ended the game on a powerful note. The Anteaters had six aces in the game and won 30-21.
UCI used a spectacular save from Thornton and a high-flying kill from the back line by Wilson to get pumped and set the tone for game three.
Smith and senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky made their mark on the game with a few solid kills and serves on the outset.
Long Beach rallied to cut the deficit to 16-13, forcing UCI to take a timeout and regroup. After the break, Wilson continued his impressive play, showing the program and the fans that the team’s future is in good hands.
At game and match point (29-19) all the seniors were on the floor and truly cherishing the moment. With the crowd behind them, Jablonsky served and Smith powered home yet another kill on the return to end the game. The Bren got loud once again for the four seniors.
On the play of his seniors, UCI Head Coach John Speraw said, ‘Thornton sets, Smith anchors the middle, Webber swats the kills and Jablonsky passes, digs and kills. The leadership from this group of seniors is vital for the success for this team. They showed that tonight.’
The Anteaters turned in a solid all-around performance after suffering from losses to No. 1-ranked Pepperdine and UCLA.
The Anteaters now look forward to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation playoffs and need to win three games to clinch a berth to the NCAA playoffs.
‘We’ve been here for four years and been through a lot. From the ups and the downs, we have set the tone for the program. I’m going to miss this whole team but we are not done yet,’ Webber said.
The following day, the Anteaters closed out the regular season with a sweep of UC San Diego 3-0.
The win gave UCI the third sport in the MPSF and also the No. 3 seed in the upcoming MPSF tournament.
UCI will face No. 6-seed Hawaii in the quarterfinals of the MPSF tournament at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, April 21 at 7 p.m.
If the team wins, they will advance to the semifinals of the tournament, to be held at Pepperdine University on Thursday, April 26.
Filed Under: Sports