Stanford’s ninth-ranked Men’s Volleyball team swept the 10th-ranked UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team on Feb. 19 at Crawford Court.
The Anteaters’ .255-hit percentage trailed a distant second to Stanford’s .422 for the night, despite neck-and-neck national rankings. The set scores of 30-21, 30-23 and 31-29 fail to reflect the often tense atmosphere and close scoring early in the games.
UCI felt game one slip away from them as the Cardinals scored six points in a row, to end the first set in their favor, 30-21.
Coming out of game one with a spirited outlook gave the Anteaters a solid starting lead of 15-9 in game two. Freshman middle blocker Aaron Harrell and junior outside hitter Steffin Rangel set up a solid wall to block Stanford’s misfired kills.
Rangel killed a ball through the red jerseys to clinch a 16th point for UCI, poising the Anteaters to run away with game two.
An exemplary setting by Stanford’s Kevin Hansen and serving by Clayton William crushed UCI’s breakaway lead to eventually tie the score at 16-16.
UCI took a brief lead again with a barrage of back-and-forth play ending in a soft tip over the net by sophomore outside hitter Matt Webber.
Fast-paced scoring by both teams evened the score at 20-20 but Stanford’s run-away scoring techniques proved to be UCI’s downfall in game two, as well. The Cardinals’ solid defensive line and killing techniques ended the game.
Craig Buell of Stanford slammed a devastating kill to secure the second set in their favor.
The dejected Anteaters faced the weighty prospect of losing three games in a row.
Despite the daunting task ahead of UCI, game three started off with promise, beginning with a ricochet off Webber’s head and over the net for an Anteater point.
The Cardinals kept a small lead for the first part of the third set until the Anteaters tied it at 16-16.
Junior libero Paul Spittle rocketed several kills out of the backcourt to take a slight lead, launching an unstoppable attack out of the right corner. Spittle also served UCI’s sole ace for the night in the latter part of game three.
Spittle and sophomore middle blocker David Smith’s offensive measures, along with the renewed defensive intensity from Rangel and sophomore outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, took the game into extra points but proved not to be enough as Stanford’s solid play ended the final set 31-29.
This game was critical for UCI because only the top eight teams make it into the MPSF tournament.
‘Tonight’s game was essential,’ Smith said. ‘It’s usually a contest between us and Stanford for that last spot in the playoffs. There are only eight teams that make it and we need to perform better than tonight if we want that spot.’
Spittle attributed much of the loss to the difficult back-to-back nights.
‘We need more fire in general and a much better defensive effort,’ Spittle said. ‘Overall, we need to look at the details and pay attention to our small game.’
UCI still needs to improve more on its defensive play.
‘We need better defense as a whole, not letting them score 2, 3, 4, 5 points in a row,’ Rangel said. ‘We need to hold them at one point at a time. They’re just getting too many balls through our lines.’
UCI Head Coach John Speraw took an optimistic approach as well.
‘Tonight, we had a lot of small errors and that was disappointing,’ Speraw said. ‘Our serve is one of our strong features and it’s unfortunate that we didn’t serve well in our own court tonight.’