UC Irvine men’s basketball traveled to Riverside last Wednesday and shut down California Baptist in three straight games.
Although it was not a night of complete domination for the Anteaters, the match featured different looks from the Irvine side that ultimately kept the opposing team on their heels and off-balance. The ‘Eaters improved to 1-0 on the season as they picked apart the Lancer squad with the sweep, 30-26, 30-27, 30-23.
The second game was where Irvine started to show how talented and experienced they really are. Irvine and Cal Baptist went back and forth in the second set, but a big block by senior Taylor Wilson on the opposing team’s best hitter Adiel Tiedjop, put the ‘Eaters up by three, making it 21-18. That block seemed to be the moment Irvine would start to pull away. But the Lancers put together their most impressive attack of the night to go up 25-23 on a 7-2 run.
But Irvine did what it does best — it held its composure.
Not deterred by the Lancer’s sudden output of points, Irvine held its ground and kept a few big rallies going that eventually led to a Cal Baptist mistake. This happened on three consecutive points and Irvine retook the lead, 26-25.
But it would not last. Cal Baptist came back with two straight points, putting them up 27-26 and as the final points of the second set approached, Coach John Speraw took a very important timeout that halted the Lancer’s momentum.
Irvine came out of the timeout and scored four straight points to win the game and go up 2-0 in the match.
“I like to see some of the mental components there for our guys,” Coach Speraw said. “There is a long way to go with this team and I just want us to keep getting better. It is a long season and if we gave up big leads right now it wouldn’t bug me, but it is nice to see that we are not.”
The Irvine offensive attack was led by a group of seniors with John Steller at the top. Steller led the Anteaters with 14 kills, followed by senior Wilson who recorded 11 kills and senior Nick Goldsbrough-Reardon put in a solid performance with 19 assists and an ace.
But it was the overall defense that really helped the Anteaters get the sweep. With the exception of the second set, Cal Baptist could never put together a big run and get on top of Irvine because someone on the Irvine side would come up with a big dig or block.
“We have been waiting for this season to start for a long time and to finally be underway feels great,” said setter Brent Asuka. “I think the chemistry is way better than it has been for a while. We went to Argentina in the summer and had a huge bonding experience and now that the season has got underway, the chemistry is way better.”
That chemistry was the most important factor in the win against Cal Baptist and it will be a huge component as the team moves forward in the season. The league is stacked again this year with some of the best collegiate teams in the country and Irvine will need some sort of driving force behind their much talented team in order to win big throughout.
UCSB Elephant Bar Collegiate Invitational
Long Beach State 3 UCI 0
The men’s volleyball team opened the weekend at the UC Santa Barbara/Elephant Bar Tournament with a tough match Friday against fourth ranked Cal State Long Beach. The 49ners went right at the ‘Eaters and won the battle at the net with a sweep of Irvine, 30-28, 30-28, 30-25.
The middle blockers for Long Beach State were perfect on the stats sheet with 19 combined kills and no errors. The limited amount of mistakes was the key for the 49ners to pull away from Irvine as each game featured some very tight scoring with leads being exchanged throughout.
The only player on the Irvine side that had double-digit kills was red-shirt freshman Carson Clark. He started his collegiate career with 19 kills and some good work on the defensive side of the net.
However, the ‘Eaters could not find an answer to Long Beach State’s Dean Bitter who posted 26 kills in the tournament opener. This was the Anteaters first loss of the season as they will meet Long Beach State two more times throughout the rest of the season.
UCI 3 BYU 1
The Anteaters then played Brigham Young University later in the day and regained form as they beat the ninth ranked Cougars in four games, 30-28, 32-30, 29-31, 30-27.
Three different players had 15 or more kills for Irvine in the very important win over BYU who had previously beat the Anteaters in a preseason match last month.
Senior John Steller and sophmore Jordan DuFault each put away 17 kills and senior outside hitter Taylor Wilson rounded out the scoring with 16 kills in the Irvine win over BYU.
UCI 3 UCLA 0
But the team’s most impressive victory of the season thus far was on Saturday against second ranked UCLA. In the highly anticipated match of the weekend, Irvine swept the Bruins 32-30, 30-25, 30-25.
Irvine held off some streaky efforts by the Bruins to hold onto the win and get fifth place overall in the tournament. This match was huge for the ‘Eaters considering they lost to rival Long Beach State the day before.
Carson Clark was a standout in the game with 13 kills, seven digs and five aces.
Senior setter Ryan Ammerman lifted 32 sets and stuffed three blocks to help the Anteaters get the sweep in the fifth place game at the Elephant Bar Tournament.
The Anteaters will be back at home on Friday night against Cal State Northridge.
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