As the crowd came to its feet for the final point, watching as junior outside hitter Matt Webber and junior middle blocker David Smith combined for the final block and point of the night, you just knew you had witnessed the culmination of something special.
With a 20-2 record in conference play, and a 27-3 finish overall, it is an understatement to say the UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team overachieved this year. Currently the owners of a nation-leading 21-match winning streak, and having captured the home court advantage for both the semifinals and finals of the MPSF tournament, they’ve flat-out excelled.
Coming in to Saturday’s season finale against the visiting UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, the No. 1-ranked Anteaters still needed a victory to ensure home-court advantage and the No. 1 seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament. They did not disappoint.
UCI’s win featured a balanced attack that saw Webber, junior outside hitter Jason Jablonsky and sophomore middle blocker Aaron Harrell all reach double digit kills, along with senior outside hitter Paul Spittle and junior middle blocker David Smith’s seven kills apiece.
Where the offense was consistent and balanced, the defense was stifling. Not always praised for great net play, the Anteaters controlled the match with a defense that simply would not allow the Gauchos any open looks and continually sent blocks right back in the opposing attackers’ faces. With Harrell leading the way with seven block assists, UCI dominated the net and never let Santa Barbara get any kind of rhythm going.
With the defense and offense clicking on all cylinders, the No. 8 Gauchos had little hope, falling in a three-game sweep, 30-25, 30-22, 30-25.
‘There are no words to describe this feeling,’ Spittle commented on his team’s victory and clinching of the MPSF title. ‘I’m just so proud of the guys and while we are enjoying this moment, we know that we still have some work to do.’
Thanks to their accomplishments on the season, the work left to do will not involve any travel—unless, of course, they win the MPSF tournament and travel to Penn State for the national championship. As is custom for the postseason volleyball tournament, the No. 1-ranked team gets a first-round bye and plays host for both second-round matches and the final.
‘It is a huge advantage for us to have the home court,’ Harrell said. ‘We need a big crowd to come out and support us, to show the other teams that this is our house and to give us that extra energy.’
After all that it has achieved this year, the team has certainly earned the right to receive that support from the student body as well as the Orange County community. With perennial powerhouses BYU and Hawaii most likely having second-round matches, fans from other schools will be flocking to Irvine to buy up tickets in the Bren Events Center to watch their teams play. UCI Head Coach John Speraw hopes that the UCI fans will beat them to the punch.
‘Starting Monday April 17 the tickets for the volleyball playoff matches go on sale at the Bren Events box office,’ Speraw said. ‘The matches will be sold out and we need the majority of that crowd to be wearing blue and gold. We need our fans to come out and buy these tickets, to show our team that they are behind them 100 percent and help us fully utilize the home- court advantage we have earned.’
Despite all the accomplishments and achievements so far this year