The UC Irvine Anteaters men’s volleyball team is on a tear since the return of Head Coach John Speraw. Last week, the team won against Pepperdine University and University of Southern California to improve its record to 8-6 overall and 5-5 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play.
On Wednesday, the eighth-ranked Anteaters continued to torture the fifth-ranked Pepperdine men’s volleyball program by defeating the Waves 3-1 (25-30, 30-23, 30-25, 30-28) at the Bren Events Center.
Over the last few years, the lower-ranked team managed to win over the other. In 2007, the Anteaters were undefeated and ranked first in the nation until the Waves came in and upset the Anteaters in their own house.
However, when the Waves were dominating, the Anteaters managed to win the MPSF tournament and the NCAA tournament. The Anteaters upset the Waves earlier this season when they were ranked second in the nation.
History repeated itself on Wednesday. The Anteaters prevailed with the help of sophomore Jon Steller, who was replacing junior Taylor Wilson as he nursed an ankle injury. Steller had a game-high 21 kills to lead an Anteater squad that always found itself in a deficit in the beginning of each game.
In game one, Pepperdine took the lead early at 11-10, and then strung together three unanswered points to go up 14-10. UCI fought back to within two at 27-25, but the Waves put down the Anteater rally by having one of their own. The Waves scored three consecutive points to win the first game 30-25.
In games two, three and four, the Anteaters caught fire, thanks in part to the emergence of junior setter Ryan Ammerman. Ammerman set up quick sets and crashed to the nets and made the Anteater blocking more potent with his 6-foot-8-inch frame. As a result, he finished with a career-high 40 assists and a career-high five blocks.
“Ammerman has been practicing really well and we weren’t scoring any points earlier on. [He] gives us a bigger block and he gave us some big stops against UCLA. When guys play really well in practice, I’m more inclined to give them a chance in the matches,” said Speraw.
In game two, the score was tied at 19 until UCI went on an 8-2 run to go up 27-21. UCI then took the game with a pair of Stellar kills, 30-23.
In game three, UCI was down 16-19, when another 8-2 run put UCI up 24-21. Despite poor hitting, UCI eventually took the game at 30-25.
Game four saw the Waves crashing into UCI hard. At one point, the Anteaters found themselves with a game-high eight point lead. However, at 23-17 the Anteaters outscored the Waves 6-1 to bring the game to 24-23. UCI achieved its first lead at 27-26 on block by Jordan DuFault, and took the triumphant victory at 30-28 on a block from Corey Yoder and Kevin Wynne.
To go along with Ammerman and Steller’s breakout performances, freshmen Corey Yoder and Kevin Carroll added 15 kills each. Libero Brent Asuka had 13 digs and senior Aaron Harrell recorded a career-high 10 block-assists.
UCI sweeps USC
On Friday night, a championship banner was unveiled and it was not USC’s. Prior to the first serve, the UCI men’s volleyball team was presented and honored with the championship banner it earned from last season’s success.
Though many of the players responsible have moved on, it seemed like their spirits resonated on the court because the new squad demolished USC 3-0 (30-28, 30-26, 30-22) at the Bren Events Center.
UCI hit an outstanding .500 on the match, a season high, and out-blocked the Trojans 9-0.
Yoder led UCI with 14 kills, hitting .542, and added an ace and three blocks. Steller ended with 13 kills, hitting .524 and sniping two aces. Middle blocker Aaron Harrell hit a whopping .636 on seven kills and recorded two blocks. Carroll also had seven kills, hitting .417 for the match. Ammerman, getting the nod over Anthony Spittle for a second consecutive night, dished a career-high 44 assists and contributed at the net with three blocks. Wynne hit .556 and led all players with five blocks. Asuka tallied seven digs in the impressive win.
UCI will next play against Brigham Young University on Friday, Feb. 15 at the Bren Events Center.