The spectacle that is University of Southern California men’s volleyball remains just that: a spectacle. The bright lights, JumboTron enforced entrance and overwhelming gaudiness of USC athletics did not prevail against the consistency and competitiveness of the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team. The squad beat the Trojans Wednesday in five games, 30-25, 23-30, 30-25, 37-39, 15-11.
The most important moments of the match came in the fourth set as USC started to pick up the momentum and went on a run late in the set. Irvine stood its ground and answered the run by the Trojans with an important streak of points led by the service of serving specialist Nick Spittle. After bringing the match within one at 28-29, the Anteaters took advantage of the dominating hitting of John Steller, who got a kill to tie the game at 29-29. At this point in the match, the momentum was shifting with each point.
The teams now had to win by two in order to grab the set, and it took every bit of athleticism on the parts of both teams to hold the other off. It became a game of exchanging points with USC holding the one-point advantage at 37-38 when a missed call changed the face of the entire match. Senior Taylor Wilson pounded an outside hit that clearly hit the top of a USC blocker’s head and went past the end line. When the referees did not call a touch on USC, the set was over and left the Anteaters puzzled as USC tied the match at 2-2.
“That fourth set was really great,” said Head Coach John Speraw. “I told myself as we got into the extra scoring that, win or lose, this is exactly what we need to go through. I told the guys after the match, we are going to get worse calls in bigger matches and we need to battle through that. They did and I am very happy with them.”
After the fourth-set fiasco with the referees, the Anteaters decided to not leave the match up to fate and took over the fifth set. Opening the set with a quick run to go up 10-5 left the Trojans looking bewildered as the match was now in the hands of Irvine. It was clear that Irvine had now retaken sole possession of the match’s momentum. After a few more kills by the offensive onslaught of Irvine, the match was ended on a Steller kill as Irvine improved its record to 8-1 in league play and 12-2 overall.
“Momentum is everything in volleyball,” Coach Speraw said. “Unlike in other sports, we are not going against a clock, which makes momentum incredibly important. Tonight we got a huge momentum boost when Steller came in, because that is what you are going to get when you put those seniors in: instant momentum. And that is what we needed to win tonight. It was a great match for us.”
The match was important on multiple levels. This was the Anteaters’ 11th win in their last 12 games as they locked down the top spot in league. This match was against the fourth-ranked team in the nation and came just days before Irvine met the nation’s third-ranked team at Pepperdine. With such an intensely fought win on the road, it was now up to the team to get some rest before facing another powerhouse team at Pepperdine on Friday night.
UCI loses to Pepperdine 27-30, 30-27, 39-37, 30-26
The week started with a battle at the University of Southern California on Wednesday and ended with a battle at Pepperdine on Friday for UC Irvine men’s volleyball. After squeezing out the win at USC, the Anteaters had to travel to Pepperdine on one day’s rest to face the third ranked Waves. After a hot start, Irvine was unable to fend off the strong opponent as it lost in four sets, 27-30, 30-27, 39-37, 30-26.
Irvine opened the match slowly as Pepperdine went up by 6 points to start the first set. From that point on, it was an uphill battle for the Anteaters. Irvine managed to tie the first game at 15-15 as they started to take hold of the set. On a service set by Kevin Wynne that featured an ace, the Anteaters put together a streak of 5 points to go up 20-15. This would be the biggest lead for Irvine the entire night. After a few runs by Pepperdine, Irvine was able to close out the first set 30-26.
In the next three sets, Irvine realized it was against the best performers in league competition. Paul Carroll carried the Waves to three straight set wins on 37 kills and 16 digs. His performance ties his career best as he hit an astounding .462. Along with the impressive performance by Carroll, Irvine helped out Pepperdine’s cause by committing 24 service errors on the night.
“At the start, both teams were serving and blocking very well,” said Head Coach John Speraw. “But as we got deeper into the match, we lost the ability to serve, and they got stronger at the net, both blocking and hitting.”
The key for Irvine was to hinder Pepperdine’s passing as much as possible considering the talent that the Waves had on offense. This important aspect of the Irvine strategy was thrown out the door with its inability to serve consistently.
This was Irvine’s worst night at the net so far this season as they were blocked 21 times and only stuffed its opponents 7.5 times.
The positive note for the night was how well Irvine’s three top seniors performed. Jon Steller had a career-high 32 kills as Ryan Ammerman put together a career-high 64 set assists and Brent Asuka rounded out the stats leaders with a season-high 19 digs.
The loss is only the team’s third of the year and second of the season putting them at 12-3 overall and 8-2 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. This drops Irvine to second in league behind the Waves a week before they travel to UC San Diego on Wednesday and face Long Beach at home on Friday.
“The most important thing for us right now is to focus on our academics,” Coach Speraw said.
“We have three very difficult weeks ahead of us and [the] last thing we need is to be even more distracted during finals week. Other than that, I think this was a very good week for us.”
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