After being the only team to take a set off of Drean Bolivar, the top professional team in Argentina, in pool play, the Anteaters were thoroughly dominated by a team much more experienced and older than UCI.
Bolivar’s control over the match was never really in question, as they won 25-9, 25-10, and 25-17. Junior Corey Yoder had a team-best three digs, and Ian Wynne added two service aces, but as a team UCI’s hitting success rate was an abysmal .131.
Korean team Air Jumbos took out Holland team HvA 3-0 (25-22, 25-20, 25-22) in the other semi-final game, setting up an Air Jumbos and Drean Bolivar championship game. Meanwhile, UCI faced off against HvA, a team they had been up on 2-0 in pool play before faltering 3-2 (17-25, 22-25, 25-18, 25-21, 16-14).
On Saturday, UCI once again came out strong against HvA. A swift kill by junior Kevin Wynne put UCI up 8-6 and forced Holland Coach Ron Zwerver to call a timeout. Freshman outside hitter Connor Hughes emerged as a top newcomer for the Anteaters, contributing several nice plays in the game. The Anteaters continued their momentum, building the lead up to 18-14. There was no lack of intensity, as sophomore opposite Carson Clark dove under the score keeping tables chasing after an errant ball.
Unfortunately, a string of faults, service line errors, and other unforced errors allowed HvA to tie the game at 21. Clark managed to carry UCI with a few kills, as the two teams battled back and forth, being tied at 22-22 and later 24-24. Unfortunately, sophomore Dan McDonnell served long to put HvA up 25-24, and they went on to win 26-24.
The second game started in identical fashion as the first, as UCI went up 8-6, forcing an HvA timeout. The two teams were neck and neck, as the score snaked its way to an 18-18 tie. Clark once again was seen going all out, this time crashing into the line of bench chairs. Freshmen setter Ian Wynne showed that he felt perfectly comfortable despite his relative inexperience when he put up the most impressive block of the game, single-handedly rejecting the Holland attack. Sophomore Kevin Carroll, who is back after redshirting last season, showed that he will be a force to be reckoned with, contributing on several points. UCI had match point several times, including an impressive overpowering serve from Carroll on HvA star Freek Michel. Carroll added another kill to make the score 30-29, at which point Zwerver became visibly frustrated at his team. This seemed to do the trick as Holland rallied to win the set 32-30.
The young ‘Eater squad seemed determined to give Holland their money’s worth in the third game, running up a 12-6 lead. However, Holland’s overall talent and experience as a team came through in the end, as UCI could not stop their late game run. A timeout called by UCI Head Coach John Speraw at 19-17 HvA could not stop the bleeding, as HvA ended up taking the third set 25-18.
Despite the rusty play, the Anteaters will still look back at the tournament as an invaluable learning experience. As the only American university playing in this type of tournament, the early rough going for UCI can only bode well for the real season.
“It’s a great opportunity for our young players to experience international competition,” Athletic Director Mike Izzi said. “It’s something we will hopefully be able to host every year because I think we can turn this into an outstanding event.”
Drean Bolivar would go on to win the historic tournament, beating Korean Air Jumbos 25-20, 25-18, 25-17. The Argentinian professional team coached by Javier Weber, who doubles as the national team coach, did not lose a single match in the tourney.
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