Midterms, birthdays, rivals and the biggest crowd so far this season were all challenges the men’s volleyball team had to overcome on Friday night. Playing against a minor-rival, University of California, Los Angeles, in front of 1,564 fans at home was not something the team was terribly uncomfortable with. Also, mix-in two 21st birthday weekends for Cole Reinholm and Anthony Spittle on top of fifth-week midterms and the human aspect in these athletes reared its ugly head. The team was distracted at the start and battled to find its dominating form.
Luckily, the most promising element of this team is how quickly they can regain form. After a flat start in a game one loss, UC Irvine won the next three straight and beat the Bruins, 20-30, 30-24, 30-17, 30-28.
“They came out and were tight and nervous and did not really play very well,” said Coach John Speraw. “This was a very important match for us [because] if we plan on being in the Final Four, we will need to know how to handle those nervous moments at the start of a match. I think the guys will be able to look back on this match and know how to handle it as we continue to play these great teams in our conference.”
The Anteaters (8-2, 4-1) came out in the second game with a newfound sense of urgency. Senior Nick Spittle came in off the bench to play libero and help spark a dominating defense, only allowing their opponents to hit .244. Spittle scooped up a season best 10 digs in his performance off the bench.
Spittle was the not only senior putting up solid numbers. Senior Jon Steller hit a team-high 18 kills with Senior Taylor Wilson right behind him, smashing 17 kills. This was an important match for Wilson who has been trying to regain his dominant form after a few pre-season injuries. His play Friday night showed signs of him coming into his own at a perfect time in the season. The attacking onslaught of Steller, Wilson and standout Sophomore Jordan DuFault will be a challenge for any team to contain. But add the middle-blocker combination of Sophomore Kevin Wynne, with seven of eight kills on Friday, and Bryan Simmons, with 7 block assists against UCLA, and the results look promising.
“In general, the whole team is assuming the leadership role,” Speraw said. “It is not one particular guy; it’s a team effort. I think tonight they all contributed in some fashion to that. But obviously, you love to see your seniors play like that. It is great.”
The Anteaters are currently ranked fourth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and will attempt to improve on their four-game winning streak at the Bren Events Center on Wednesday against Stanford.
UCI def. Princeton 30-27, 30-21, 30-20
Men’s volleyball started the week against a young Princeton team that travelled to Irvine for its season opener against the Anteaters. The outcome of the game was not what the Tigers hoped for. Irvine dominated Princeton, winning handedly in three games, 30-27, 30-21, 30-20.
The match opened with an inspired effort on the part of Princeton as they stayed with the more athletic Anteaters for the majority of the first game. With Irvine leading by one point, 18-17, Irvine took the game over and rattled off four straight points to go up 22-17. But the Tigers would not go out easily. They played hard throughout the rest of the game and constantly hinted at a comeback, but were unable to outdo the overpowering Irvine offense.
The Tigers brought it within two points late, making it 29-27. But the Anteaters did not allow it to go any further as Austin D’Amore knocked down the set point on a short set down the middle to put Irvine one game up.
The next two games were not as back-and-forth. Irvine made fairly quick work of the visiting Tigers with multiple players dishing out kills, assists and digs. But it was the aces that Cole Reinholm fired off in the second and third sets that ultimately gave the Anteaters the biggest edge in the match. In the second set, Reinholm smoked the Tigers backline with two aces that help garner a five-point lead for the Anteaters at 15-10. Irvine would not look back after that and won the second game 30-21.
The third set was more of the same. Reinholm smoothed in another sampling of aces, notching three more in the third set. The Tigers did not put up much of a fight in the third set as Irvine won the set 30-20 and won the match overall improving to a 7-2 record.
Freshman Carson Clark was the top hitter for the Anteaters, tallying 14 kills to go along with a team-high seven digs. Senior Taylor Wilson added to his rising season totals by smacking in 12 kills with a hitting average of .500. Nick Goldsbrough-Reardon led the team in assists with 27 assists and Anthony Spittle following with 10 assists.
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