The top-ranked UC Irvine men’s volleyball team escaped the jaws of defeat on Wednesday when they defeated UC Santa Barbara in a close five-set match, 3-2 (30-28, 27-30, 30-32, 31-29, 15-12) .
This match, however, was not about the offensive presence of either team but rather about the defensive intensity on both sides. Freshman Austin D’Amore led UCI with a total of eight total blocks while Kevin Wynne added seven blocks of his own. The Anteaters out-blocked the Gauchos with an average of 18.5 blocks per game while the Gauchos averaged 14.5.
The Anteaters played a solid game in which no player outshined another. UCI had four players with double-digit kills. Jordan Default led the Anteaters with 15 kills, while Jon Steller and Wynne were close behind with 14 kills. Taylor Wilson also chipped in with 13 kills.
The match started out shaky for the Anteaters as the Gauchos jumped out to a 9-5 lead in the first set. However, Irvine rallied from behind with a 5-0 run to take the lead 10-9. Yet the Gauchos went on a 5-0 run of their own to tie the score at 22-22. The set stayed close until UCI was able to pull off an attack error from UCSB. Steller closed the set with a kill at 30-28.
The second set was just as close as the first. No team was able to get a definitive lead until UCSB pulled away 20-22 after an Anteater error. From there, the Anteaters were never able to regain the lead. The Gauchos went on to take the second set 27-30.
The third set followed suit and stayed tight, although the Gauchos maintained a minor lead for the majority of the set. That lead disappeared when D’More slammed a kill to tie the set up 24-24. However, UCSB regained control with two consecutive blocks, which gave them the third set 30-28.
With the momentum behind them, the Gauchos opened strong in the fourth set, and took a minor advantage over the Anteaters. Irvine bounced back and was able to tie the score at 29-29. Facing defeat, Irvine kicked it up in high gear and came up with two blocks from D’Amore and Carson Clark to give Irvine the fourth set at 31-29.
The decisive fifth set was played only to 15, yet it was just as close. The Gauchos tied the score at 12-12, when the Anteaters came up consecutively with a kill, a block, and an error to give Irvine the set 15-12 and the match 3-2.
With this win, the Anteaters improve to 11-2 overall and 7-1 in their conference.
The ‘Eaters next take on the University of Southern California at the Galen Center on Wednesday
They then travel to Malibu, CA. to play second-ranked Pepperdine University on Friday.
Pepperdine dropped its first match of the year last Friday in four sets to Stanford.