Before the game on March 4, Coach John Speraw told his UC Irvine men’s volleyball team that the game against Loyola-Chicago was important for two reasons. The first reason includes a little bit of the competition’s history. If a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) team loses to a Midwest team, and both teams lose in the finals of their regional tournaments, it is a very real possibility that the non-MPSF team, particularly from the Midwest, will get the nod into the NCAA tournament. The second reason is that Loyola-Chicago has the ability to play at a very high level. The Ramblers already have an upset victory over top-ranked Penn State University under their belt.
The ‘Eaters listened and dominated Loyola-Chicago in straight sets 30-23, 30-27, 30-21 in the non-conference matchup at Crawford Hall on Wednesday.
Sophomore middle blocker Kevin Wynne led the way for the Anteaters with 10 kills on 15 attempts. He hit a season-high .667 percent. Fellow middle blocker freshman Austin D’Amore led the team with eight blocks and added a career-high six kills. Setter Ryan Ammerman matched D’Amore with eight blocks and dished out 29 assists. Senior Taylor Wilson had eight kills and two aces, and Jordan DuFault added seven kills and nine digs.
The second-ranked Anteaters improved to 15-3 overall and out-blocked the Ramblers 12.5 to three. Loyola-Chicago fell to 8-6 and was held to a .121 hit percentage.
Loyola-Chicago broke out to an early 14-11 lead in the first set behind some scrappy play. UCI went go on a 9-3 run and received a boost from a well-timed ace from Wilson. Wynne put the stamp on the set by firing a monster kill down the middle to seal the set for the Anteaters at 30-23. Wynne converted seven of 11 kill attempts, as the Anteaters hit .441.
UCI carried its momentum into the second set and worked an early 6-2 lead. After a Rambler timeout, Loyola-Chicago knotted the game at seven. The combination of DuFault, Wilson, Steller, D’Amore and Ammerman pulled the Anteaters ahead at 17-14. Loyola-Chicago again tied the game at 17 a piece, but the ‘Eaters then broke away and finally won the set on another Wynne kill at 30-27.
The third set began with an ace from Dufault, and UCI again built a 6-2 lead. Following a timeout, Loyola-Chicago tied the score at eight. The teams went back and forth until they were tied at 14. UCI strung together a 4-0 run to go up 18-14 and never looked back. The set ended 30-21, fittingly on a Wynne-D’Amore double stuff.
“You never want to face a team that could be the runner-up because that could put you at a very high risk down the road,” Coach Speraw said.
For now, the Anteaters do not have to worry about that.
UCI 3 UCLA 2
When the momentum changed in the third set, it turned for the worse. After opening the match with two straight wins at UC Los Angeles, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team had to find a way to win as they were faced with yet another game five. This was the team’s third game five in the last three weeks. However, unlike the previous matches, the team’s serving put them over the edge as it beat UCLA in five games, 30-26, 30-28, 27-20, 29-31, 15-11.
“We always find a way to win,” said senior Nick Spittle. “That was a match that we should have closed out earlier. But, the fact that when we get into a game five we always grind it out is something positive to take from that match.”
UCLA maneuvered its way into a fourth set win and put Irvine on its heels at exactly the wrong time.
However, they stepped into the fifth set with a look of determination that was not to be denied.
The serving specialist for the team, Spittle, came into the set halfway through to help put the team up by a few extra points with his serving. It served as the best decision of the night.
Spittle hammered in two straight aces to put the team up by three in the final set, making it 10-3.
His third serve of the final set nearly hit the deck, but his impact on the match was remarkable. Spittle came into the game and single-handily put his team up enough to basically secure the win.
“Coach [Mark] Presho told me to stop doing this 80 percent stuff and if I get a good toss, to just rip it. And I did,” Spittle said. “It felt really good to get those in. I had been struggling a little earlier in the match but it was nice to help give our team that couple of point buffer[s] in the last set.”
Spittle ended the night with three aces. Sophomores Jordan DuFault and Carson Clark each ripped 21 kills, while senior Ryan Ammerman placed a career-high 66 assists on the night for Irvine.
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