Although the UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team stayed at home within the comfortable boundaries of Irvine last week, the team actually learned a little something about other California cities: Los Angeles is nothing like Santa Cruz.
Coming off a disappointing three-set loss to third-ranked UCLA the night before, the 10th-ranked Anteaters bounced back to defeat the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs Jan. 24 in three sets 30-7, 30-20 and 30-26 at Crawford Court.
‘Nothing went our way the night before. We passed poorly and we hit poorly and tonight we played better,’ said Head Coach John Speraw.
Tied 2-2 in the first set and showing no signs of fatigue, UCI took control of the game by going on an incredible 24-3 run, capped off by a combined block from senior outside hitter Jimmy Pelzel and senior middle blocker Kyle Weichert that sent a message to Santa Cruz that they had no chance of coming back.
In frustration and to make light of the situation, before play resumed after a time-out called by Santa Cruz Head Coach Jay Hosack, Hosack went to the referee and jokingly asked, ‘Can I have one more time-out?’
‘To get our first three-game match of the season, we’re pretty happy about that,’ said freshman outside hitter Matt Webber. ‘We definitely focused on blocking today, trying to get together to close the seams.’
‘We wanted to bounce back after the huge loss last night to show that we’re still a good team,’ Pelzel added. ‘I think we did a good job of doing that tonight. We didn’t leave them any openings.’
To rest the starters and give the younger players more experience, Speraw substituted into the game many of the younger Anteaters, sitting out senior outside hitter Spencer Bemus for the entire game and taking Pelzel out midway through the second set.
‘This year, we’re very deep, deeper than we were last year,’ Speraw said. ‘There are guys on the bench who deserve to play and they’ve earned that right and tonight, it was a good chance to take a look at other guys who deserve [to play] and maybe even rest Jimmy [Pelzel] a little bit. He takes a lot of swings for us.’
‘The coach believes in us,’ Webber said. ‘He’ll never doubt us and believes that we can beat anybody no matter who is on the floor.’
‘It was back to basics,’ said freshman middle blocker David Smith. ‘We weren’t really able to prepare for this game, so we just went out there and stuck to the fundamentals.’
The rest of the team did not disappoint as they continued to embarrass Santa Cruz throughout the night.
Freshman setter Brian Thornton and freshman middle blocker Eric Vincent blocked a kill attempt in the middle of the second set to stop a Santa Cruz rally. To add insult to injury, on the next play, sophomore libero Paul Spittle spiked the volleyball onto Santa Cruz’s junior middle blocker Dane Gilliam’s head for another point.
In the third set, senior outside hitter B. J. Fell led four freshman and one sophomore down the stretch and had a block and a kill to finish off the surging Banana Slugs.
‘I thought [Fell] did a nice job,’ Speraw said. ‘It’s the first time he started in a while and he played well.’
Fell led all players with five service aces and also contributed 10 kills. Webber led all players with 12 kills. UCI improves to 4-4 on the year while UC Santa Cruz drops to 2-4.
Next up for UCI is top-ranked Pepperdine, who will visit the Bren Center this Wednesday. After the loss to UCLA, the Anteaters are ready to show people their true playing potential.
‘We’re really anxious for a win against a good team,’ Pelzel said. ‘We know we can do it, we have the talent.’