After a heart-breaking loss at No. 1-ranked Pepperdine on March 31, the No. 2-ranked UC Irvine men’s volleyball team traveled to UCLA to take on the No. 4-ranked Bruins. With only three games remaining on the schedule before the start of playoffs and with the Anteaters attempting to secure the second seed in the post-season tournament, the host Bruins dealt a devastating blow to the Anteaters’ hopes as they fought back from being down two games to none and beat UCI 3-2 (23-30, 24-30, 30-28, 30-28, 17-15).
Eager to put their loss to Pepperdine behind them and to re-establish some momentum heading into the playoffs, UCI jumped all over UCLA from the outset, flexing its muscles and showing that it meant business. Behind a tremendous effort at the net by UCI middle blockers senior David Smith and junior Aaron Harrell, the Anteaters out-blocked the Bruins six to two in the first game. Combining that with a hitting percentage of .462, compared to a paltry .179 for UCLA, UCI controlled the entire first game, taking it 30-23.
Game two proved to be no different from game one as UCI continued to own UCLA in every way.
Riding the arms of senior opposite Matt Webber, senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky and sophomore outside hitter Taylor Wilson, the Anteaters found themselves with offense aplenty, controlling the game and taking it easily 30-24.
‘The team came out on fire tonight and played extremely well in the first two games,’ said athletic trainer Winnie Voong. ‘Then UCLA made some adjustments and turned the tables completely.’
While the first two games seemed to have been played almost perfectly by the Anteaters, the next two proved to be overwhelmingly frustrating. With UCLA taking back control of the net, out-blocking UCI 13-3 over games three and four, UCI suddenly found their offense lacking.
The holes in the UCLA defense that had been open in the first two games, suddenly becoming non-existent.
After trailing 27-25 in game three, UCI rallied to tie the score behind a Jablonsky kill and ace, but UCLA won the game 30-28.
Game four proved to be almost an exact replica of game three, with UCLA again controlling the nets and taking the game 30-28, tying the overall score at two games apiece and forcing a fifth and final game.
While it seemed as though the Bruins had all of the momentum going into the fifth game, UCI was the team that jumped out to the early 3-0 lead, using the serving of senior setter Brian Thornton and two kills from Wilson.
UCI held onto this lead until UCLA rallied to tie the score at 10-10. From there, the game was tied three more times at 12-12, 14-14, and 15-15, before UCLA made it match point behind a service ace and took the game and the match on yet another block of a UCI attack.
Jablonsky led the Anteaters with 19 kills, followed by Wilson with 17, Webber with 14 and Harrell and Smith contributing 12 kills apiece.
The loss dropped UCI to 22-5 on the season and 15-5 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
The Anteaters will attempt to get back on a winning streak when they take on long time conference rival Long Beach State in its final home game of the season at the Bren Events Center on Friday, April 13 at 7 p.m.