The game between the UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team and the Matadors from Cal State Northridge, was a battle between the No. 3 and No. 5 teams in the nation. It was supposed to be a close contest, a tough match. It turned out to be another sweep for the Anteaters.
Playing in front of a sizable crowd on Wednesday night at Crawford Hall, the Anteaters took the lead right from the beginning and never let Northridge establish themselves, taking all three games and making a statement to the rest of the nation that their third-place ranking is no fluke.
If a statement is what UCI was looking for in this contest, the opening game was a great barometer for how the evening was going to go, as UCI jumped out to an early lead and never trailed. Led by the stellar play of junior outside hitter Matt Webber, who totaled six kills and a service ace in that first game, and paced by the duo of senior outside hitter Paul Spittle and junior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, who each scored three kills, the UCI offense simply outplayed the visiting Matadors and took the first game easily, 30-21.
‘We started well, and I think that just helped to propel us forward the rest of the game,’ said UCI Head Coach John Speraw.
Seeming to not miss a beat, UCI came out strong in the second game as well, taking an early 13-8 lead and forcing Northridge to call a quick timeout. Nothing seemed to slow down the Anteaters on this night, though, as they continued to flourish behind the attacks of Webber and Jablonsky. Set up time and time again by beautiful passes from junior setter Brian Thorton, the tandem made it seem easy as they continuously found holes in the Matador defense.
When UCI wasn’t scoring off clean attacks, it was benefiting from the improved defense of middle blockers Aaron Harrell and David Smith. Harrell and Smith controlled the net for the Anteaters, forcing Northridge to commit nine attack errors in the second game alone, and 23 on the night. It was just too much for the Matadors to handle, as they fell again to the Anteaters, this time 30-23 in game number two.
‘These games are always tough when midterms are going on,’ Spittle said. ‘Guys are tired, focus is difficult, but it’s really good to get a league win, especially against a good team.’
Northridge, perhaps not wanting to suffer the indignity of a sweep, came out fighting in game three. In a game that was much closer than the previous two, and a lot like what had been expected from those in attendance, UCI and Cal State Northridge went back and forth.
With neither team wanting to give an inch, the difference was never more than three points, with UCI leading most of the way. Coming out of a UCI timeout, and after the Matadors had cut the lead to 19-18, UCI used a Webber kill and three unforced Matador errors to push their lead back to three, 23-20. Northridge called a timeout to try and stem the tide, but it was too little, too late. UCI had found its rhythm and there was no stopping them. Closing the game out on a 9-5 run, UCI took the third and final game 30-26 to complete the sweep.
‘It was a good win,’ Thorton said. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s the No. 3 team or the No. 12, we just want to get the wins. We can learn from this and hopefully improve as the season progresses.’
Any improvements would seem to be icing on the cake. UCI takes their three-match winning streak on the road to UC Santa Barbara before returning home for a two-game home stand against Stanford and Pacific.