This past week I had to miss the New University’s weekly meeting (which any aspiring writers should attend on Wednesdays) because I traveled out to Riverside to cover the men’s volleyball match against California Baptists University. It was interesting, to say the least.
The team swept Cal Baptists, but that is not really the story considering they were expected to do just that. The story is about how they rose to the occasion when faced with a challenge. That challenge was named Adiel Tiedjop.
He was a flying, warrior-like player that could have played tight-end for the Rams this last season. He is originally from Cameroon, and I have never seen another player take such a literal killing approach to getting a kill in volleyball. It was gnarly. The dude lines up his set like anybody else, but while he flew through the air to make contact, his eyes would bulge out, his mouth would widen in a ferocious grimace and he would let out a hunting roar that sounded like he hated everyone in the place and was going to take it out on the ball.
In my notes on the game, I actually wrote: kill for 17 CBU, warrior chant louder than last kill. In a way, I was taken aback and slightly impressed. For a split-second – a very short split-second – I even got a little worried and questioned if our guys could handle this monster.
I quickly felt like an idiot.
Not only did they handle the dude, but they dismantled his game and picked apart the entire Cal Baptists effort. It was like watching little kids get smacked around.
Every time our warrior friend Tiedjop got a kill, UCI’s All-American Jon Steller would step up and nail a kill right in the middle of Cal Baptists’ lack-luster defense. He answered almost every time Tiedjop got a kill and even did it without yelling mid-jump.
But Steller was only one part of the equation. The most impressive part of the match was how well UCI moved and executed as a unit. They were rotating guys in and out with some frequency, but it did not really affect how well they were playing together. It was the first official match of the season and they made a few mental mistakes that allowed Cal Baptist to get close a few times, but that is somewhat expected at this early stage in the season.
In each of the three games, Cal Baptist would put together a little streak and at times, take a one or two-point lead, but Irvine never lost its composure and closed out each game with a stamp of superiority that you only see in championship teams.
They made the other guys look infantile. That may sound a bit harsh, but it’s true. Warrior man was the only guy consistently producing and the rest of the team looked like they were scared to step on his toes. I don’t really blame them.
But it was refreshing to see the exact opposite happening on the Irvine side. At this stage in the long season, Coach John Speraw does not even have a set starting lineup, something that would create some tension on the side on most other teams. Not with these guys. They were all focused throughout and all smiles after.
Seniors Brent Asuka and Taylor Wilson both mentioned after the game this was one of the first times they felt like that much needed chemistry was brewing. And for Irvine fans, that is exactly what we want to hear and exactly what other schools do not want to hear.
The squad had a decent fifth-place finish at the Elephant Bar Tournament in Santa Barbara this past weekend, but like I mentioned, it is still very early. If this team that is absolutely loaded with talent really starts to gel on the court, it looks like it will be a very good year of men’s volleyball.