Anteaters Catch Fire

Ryon Graf | Staff Photographer

Ryon Graf | Staff Photographer

The ninth-ranked UC Irvine Anteater men’s volleyball team upset second-ranked Cal State Northridge 3-1, (28-30, 30-24, 42-40, 30-18), on Tuesday in the final regular season game at the Bren Events Center.
With the victory, the Anteaters snapped a 14-game win streak by CSUN and evened their own overall record at 13 (9-10 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play). The teams played in one of the most intense sets in college volleyball history during game three with the Anteaters winning 42-40.
Jon Steller led all players with 27 kills and a career-high seven block assists. Freshman Jordan DuFault continued his late season emergence with a career night. He fired career-high 16 kills, 12 digs and seven block assists. Middle blockers Aaron Harrell and Kevin Wynne each added seven kills and a team-high eight block assists. Libero Brent Asuka tied his season-high with 18 digs, and Kevin Carroll came off the bench to provide a spark on defense with seven digs to go with four kills on a .500 hitting percentage. Setter Anthony Spittle recorded 55 set assists and a career-high six blocks.
UCI led for the first 20 points of the game until Northridge built a 12-11 lead early in game one. A Mike Gaudino kill put the Matadors up 24-19. The Anteaters pulled to within one at 28-17, but CSUN prevailed with the 30-28 game-one win.
UCI looked poised in game two after breaking out on a 7-1 run to go up 27-20 in game two. The Anteaters took the game 30-24 on a powerful Steller kill.
In game three, Northridge held to an early 15-11 lead when UCI brought it to 23-21. UCI scored three unanswered points to take the lead at 24-23. Steller took over and brought the Anteaters to a 28-26 lead on a pair of kills. The Matadors fought back and knot the score at 29. Then the madness began as the Anteaters and Matadors kept exchanging points until 40-40. Harrel lasered a kill down the middle to gain advantage. And then a Matador attack that went just wide gave the Anteaters the exhausting 40-42 game-three win.
It was the longest game in UCI history and the third-highest score in MPSF history as Northridge has been a part of the first two as well (45-43, 43-41).
The ‘Eaters did not mess around in game four as they jumped on an early 5-1 lead, and eventually the dominating 30-18 game-four win. UCI hit .480 in the game, while Northridge seemed to have left all its juice in game four as it hit .083.
For the match, the Anteaters dominated the net by out-blocking its opponent 21-7.5. The Anteater total of 21 was its second-highest of the season.
Coming off the big win against CSUN, the Anteaters carried their momentum to Santa Barbara on Saturday and swept the UCSB Gauchos (32-30, 30-27, 30-20). With the victory, the Anteaters clinched a postseason appearance. The inconsistent play left doubt in some minds that the Anteaters would not make it to the postseason, but they came together in the final games of the season and solidified their spot.
With two regular-season matches remaining, the Anteaters are 14-13 overall and 10-10 in MPSF play.
Steller and DuFault led the way for the Anteaters with 15 kills each with DuFault hitting .542 for the match. Cory Yoder totaled eight kills. Harrell and Wynne each added five kills. Harrell also recorded team-high five blocks and two aces. Asuka recorded eight digs and Spittle gathered 45 set assists on the match.
In game one, UCI jumped out to an early 7-2 lead and kept it till 28-23 when UCSB scored four unanswered points to close the deficit to within one at 28-27. A Yoder kill halted the 4-0 run, but did not keep the Gauchos from starting another 3-0 streak.
On game point, the Gauchos misfired into the net and Stellar capitalized by putting away two straight kills to give UCI the 32-30 victory.
Game two was closer as both teams were neck-and-neck for most of the match. At 26-26, the 12th tie of the game, Taylor Wilson came on to serve and recorded a kill. Following two UCSB attack errors, one off a Harrell block, the Anteaters had game point at 29-26. A Harrell and Stellar block gave UCI the game at 30-27.
Leading 12-10 in game three, UCI went on a 7-2 tear to open up a seven-point cushion at 19-12 for the Anteaters. UCI made the UCSB attack seem futile as it cruised to a dominating 30-20 game three victory.
The Anteaters are getting hot at the perfect time. While they’ve been inconsistent at times this season, Head Coach John Speraw has always had the confidence that this team can take down even the best teams despite having a young group on the floor.
“As you go through a challenging year like this, you have a tendency to think about next year because you can see these improvements you’re making are going to carry over to next season,” Speraw said. “The key is to remember you can still win this year though. We can be great this year, I’ve never stopped believing that. We beat the number three and number two team in America.”
UCI will travel to the University of Pacific next Friday and to Stanford on Saturday to close the regular season.
“We talked all year long about playing our best volleyball at the end of the year and there’s no doubt we’re better now than we were in January,” Speraw said.