UC San Diego 0
UC Irvine 3
Coming off a home victory against Cal State Northridge and riding a five-game winning streak, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team took on the UC San Diego Tritons in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference match Wednesday night at Crawford Hall. While it was volleyball that was being played on the court, it seemed as though the Anteaters had cards on their minds, as they recorded a season-high 11 service aces and crushed the visiting Tritons in a three game sweep (30-16, 30-18, 30-25).
In game one, which would last a mere 20 minutes, UCI (18-3 overall, 12-3 MPSF) came out and established who the No. 2 team in the nation was, grabbing a quick 10-5 lead on UCSD and never letting up. Behind three service aces and the efficient offensive attack of senior middle blocker David Smith and junior middle blocker Aaron Harrell who recorded three kills apiece, UCI cruised to an easy 30-16 victory that seemed to happen before most of the fans had even settled into their seats.
‘This is a team that stole a game from Pepperdine and we didn’t want to let that happen here,’ said Head Coach John Speraw. ‘This was a league match and we wanted to come out quickly, grab the lead and never let up.’
Following the game plan of their coach perfectly, the Anteaters came out in the second game and followed the same blue print from the first game. Tied at nine apiece, UCI went on a 17-5 run that saw service aces from freshman opposite Cole Reinholm and senior opposite Matt Webber, as well as two kills and a solo block from senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky. Up 26-14 and seemingly unable to do anything wrong, UCI closed out game number two 30-18 with a rocket shot from Reinholm that ricocheted off of a Triton defender and into the crowd.
Game three proved to be a much more competitive match compared to the first two, with UCI leading for most of the way but unable to string together a series of points. Never being able to build a lead of more than three points, UCI found itself up only one at 25-24 and needed to take a timeout to re-group.
Whatever was said in the timeout had the right effect on the team, and they came out to score the next point off a kill from Jablonsky. After allowing a Triton point to again make it a one-point game, the Anteaters went on a four-point run to close out the game and the match 30-25, highlighted by kills from Smith and Reinholm, another ace from Harrell and a triple block from sophomore outside hitter Taylor Wilson, Smith and Webber.
‘I loved the way we attacked the middle of the court tonight,’ Speraw said. ‘We had great service games in games one and two, got away from it a little bit in game three but we’ve served well in streaks all season. The balance we had on offense was fantastic tonight. If we can do that every game, we are going to be pretty hard to beat.’
The balance the coach was referring to was evident in the stat sheet. UCI had all five of its offensive stars contribute on the night. Webber and Reinholm each had seven kills, middle blockers Smith and Harrell recorded nine apiece, and outside hitter Jablonsky totaled 10 on the night. Overall UCI hit .436 in the match, compared to an abysmal .027 for UCSD.
One of the main reasons that the Tritons were unable to finish off many of their kills was the impressive blocking and digging of the Anteaters. Recording 19 block assists total, including three solo blocks from Jablonsky, Harrell, and senior setter Brian Thornton, UCI controlled the net and did not allow the Triton offense to get anything going. The Anteaters also recorded 24 digs, led by freshman libero Brent Asuka and Webber who each had six, followed by Thorton with five. Thorton also contributed 37 assists on the night.
Following Wednesday’s victory, the Anteaters defeated Long Beach State 3-2 in five games (23-30, 30-19, 30-25, 28-30 and 15-12).
UCI will return home for a showdown with UCLA on Friday, March 9 at 7 p.m. in the Bren Events Center.
The Anteaters have just three more home games remaining with games against Penn State on March 14 at Crawford Hall and against Long Beach on April 13 at the Bren.