Friday night, the Bren Events Center saw a jolt of brilliance from the Anteater men’s volleyball team in the first set of its match against second-ranked Cal State Northridge. However, its flash of dominance in that first set was soon forgotten as the Matadors found a groove and kept their undefeated season intact, beating UC Irvine in four games, 30-25, 26-30, 27-30, 25-30.
The first two sets were an exchange of games between two extremely talented teams which set up a crucial third game. The scoring was tight the whole time with Irvine staying within two points throughout. But it was a kill by red-shirt sophmore Kevin Wynne down the middle that set the Anteaters on a 5-1 run, putting them up by three at 27-24. At this point, the arena knew this set was Irvine’s for the taking, but the Matadors capitalized on a bad serve by the Anteaters and followed with a kill by Eric Vance that brought the score within one, 27-26.
The Anteaters would then take a timeout to reset, but Northridge was determined to come back and close it out. On the next three straight plays, the Matadors proved why they were ranked second in the league. The Matadors blocked three Irvine kill attempts and took it to set point at 27-29. The game point came from Northridge’s Vance, this time from the service line on a questionable ace that closed the Anteaters out 27-30 for the two games to one lead.
The fourth game was similar to the third, with the exception of a late Irvine run, and the Matadors continued their five-game winning streak, beating the Anteaters handily, 25-30.
“We knew coming in that [Northridge] was great, and from what I can tell by looking at scores, they are probably playing better than anyone else in America right now,” Coach John Speraw said. “However, I am encouraged because there are certain aspects of the game that we can improve [and] there are many areas that we are doing great.”
The first game against Northridge on Friday is where this year’s squad really displayed all of its potential and gave the Irvine faithful a glimpse of some greatness. The movement on defense was precise, with Irvine putting down five blocks and scooping 12 digs to start out. Not to mention the offense was right there to back up the defense in that first game. The team smoothed in 14 total kills and an ace. The rotation was in sync throughout that first game and after winning the first set, 30-25, it appeared Irvine had a lock on the match.
But Northridge’s star hitter Vance was unmatched, leading all scorers with 25 kills and two aces.
The players that really made it a match to watch were sophomore Jordan DuFault and red-shirt freshman Carson Clark. Clark led the team with 22 kills and showed a tremendous amount of fight throughout the match. In the crucial third game, he put his body on the line with a diving save over the media desk and into some chairs to keep the ball in play, only to get up and watch Northridge put in another kill.
That series displayed the essence of Irvine’s uphill battle against the Matadors.
However, no player on the court was taking the battle head-on as much as DuFault. His 16 kills were second-best on the team and his presence at the net could not be denied. Every point for Irvine meant DuFault exploding with emotion in an attempt to enliven his team. DuFault would make plays at critical moments and spark a little momentum. However, Northridge was always there to answer and stop any buildup throughout the match.
Maintaining momentum is not the only problem that Irvine will need to solve before their next match. The rotation is still not quite set and an injury to sophomore outside-hitter Cory Yoder has set the team back a few steps. DuFault, senior Taylor Wilson and junior Cole Reinholm rotated in to fill that spot Friday night, combining for 21 kills.
“If you look at the numbers over the last few matches, we need some more production from that spot and they know that,” Speraw said. “Jordan is playing great for this time of year and he is working on [a] new type of shot, so even though his numbers went down a little bit against Santa Barbara, he played great tonight.”
The Anteaters will have a few days to prepare for the next test on Wednesday against UC San Diego.
UCI Win Over UCSB: 30-23, 30-25, 26-30, 30-17
Irvine opened its Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) play at UC Santa Barbara on Wednesday last week and handled the ninth-ranked Gauchos in four games, 30-23, 30-25, 26-30, 30-17.
It was a great start for the Anteaters who are facing an extremely difficult schedule the entire season. A win against UCSB in the league opener set the precedent at the time and the heightened the expectations for the rest of the season.
With the exception of the third set, Irvine was in control and red-shirt freshman Carson Clark was the dominating factor in his MSPF league debut. Clark was the team leader in kills with a career-high 24 and put the second set on his back, pounding in nine kills.
The last set of the match proved to be the easiest for the Anteaters as they demolished the Gauchos 30-17. Irvine’s hitting average of .404 in that last set trumped the pathetic effort of UCSB who hit a measley -.118.The low hitting average of the Gauchos was also a product of the strong Irvine defense at the net. The ‘Eaters manhandled the offensive attack of the Gauchos and out-blocked the opposing team, 14-5.
The match victory was the eighth consecutive win over UCSB since the 2006 season, and with the amount of dominance displayed on Wednesday night’s victory, it does not look like that trend will change anytime soon.
Filed Under: Sports