UCI Falls Short in Upset Bid

UC Irvine 3 Pepperdine 1

On the eve of facing USC in a rematch of last May’s national championship match, the men’s volleyball team had to first take care of business against Pepperdine. Despite some offensive woes and a very tenacious Pepperdine squad, the Anteaters came away with a three sets to one victory (30-27, 24-30, 30-25, 30-27).

“Both teams are going to be a lot better next time we play,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “Pepperdine was not all healthy and we did not play smoothly.”

Carson Clark led the way for the ’Eaters as he recorded a career high of 26 kills while Jordan DuFault added another 19. The bench also played a tremendous factor in the match against the Waves. Cole Reinholm contributed with tough serves, while freshman Connor Hughes proved that he too deserved some playing time, as he was able to give the ’Eaters a late surge with five kills.

“Austin [D’Amore] and Bryan [Simmons] have been in the middle of the bench and I have zero hesitation to put them in. The same goes with Connor Hughes – he has earned the right to come off the bench,” Speraw said.

Both Jeff Schmitz and Anthony Spittle contributed to the setter position, as they combined for 58 assists. Fir st year starter Kevin Welsh continued to amaze at the libero position. Welsh recorded 13 digs without any errors and was also able to dish out an assist.

UC Irvine was able to take the first set in large part because the ’Eaters hit for an outstanding .450. The second set proved to be another story as their offensive struggles set in and they were only able to convert .146 of their hitting opportunities.

After struggling in the second set, the Anteaters improved on the offensive side and made Pepperdine work for their points. The ’Eaters were able to convert .355 of their hitting opportunities and held The Waves to .083

Pepperdine was doing all they could to push the Anteaters to a fifth set as the fourth featured 18 ties and six lead changes. Knotted up at 25 apiece, Pepperdine’s outside hitter, Maurice Torres, fired a ball to the Anteater side. But backup setter Anthony Spittle was right there to record a huge block that sent ‘Eater Nation’ into a frenzy and crushed the Waves’ momentum.

“It was clutch; we had a lot of fire after that block,” Clark said. The Anteaters would go on to take the set 30-27.

UC Irvine has taken five out of the last six matches against Pepperdine and have not allowed the Waves to record a victory at The Bren since 2007.

UC Irvine 2 USC 3

Last time UC Irvine and USC got together, the volleyball national championship was on the line. In that match, the Anteaters were the number one team in the nation and won the championship despite trailing two sets to one. These two volleyball juggernauts would meet once again on Friday night under the bright lights of the Bren Events Center; however, this time around it was a complete role reversal, as USC was ranked number one and trailed two sets to one.

Jordan DuFault’s career high of 30 kills, Carson Clark’s 22, and 2-0 UCI advantage were not enough to give the USC Trojans their first conference loss. The Trojans not only shocked the Anteaters but also the 2,648 fans in attendance, as they ultimately won in five sets (30-19, 30-21, 17-30, 28-20, 12-15).

“Overall I am encouraged. That team was the number one team in America,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “They returned everyone and we lost a lot of points because we had some new people on the floor.”

In the first two sets, UC Irvine looked head and shoulders above USC. The Trojans looked star struck, as all they could do was watch the aerial display put on by Clark and DuFault, recording 12 and 14 kills respectively in the first two sets.

To add to the troubles of stopping the Anteater attack, USC had less success with their offense, converting a measly .069 and .086 of their hitting opportunities in sets one and two. Any ball that was hit near the vicinity of Bryan Simmons was quickly sent back. Simmons recorded six blocks in the first two sets, including three straight in the first set, which forced USC’s head coach, Bill Ferguson, to empty his bench in order to find some sort of answer.

Going into the third set, a UC Irvine victory seemed a sure thing. Tied at six apiece, Clark recorded a kill and Simmons added another block to his stat line. All of a sudden the score was 8-6, and the Anteaters were looking to run away with the third set and sweep the number one team in the land.

Since the momentum was favoring the ’Eaters, Ferguson quickly called a timeout. Coming out of the timeout, the Trojans looked like a different team. The Men of Troy fired balls left and right, recording five straight kills and an ace. What was once an 8-6 UC Irvine lead quickly turned into an 8-12 USC lead. The Anteaters failed to keep their composure, as the Trojans continued to dismantle UCI. The Trojans showed why they are ranked number one, as the finished the third set on a 23-9 run. “Game three was key; we should have made some offensive adjustments,” Speraw said. “I thought we came and did what we needed to do early, and then they changed some things and we didn’t.”

The fourth set saw both UCI and USC play their best volleyball. The score was tied on 13 separate occasions and five lead changes occurred. Late in the fourth set, the score was knotted up at 27-27. The Trojans quickly put the pressure on the ’Eaters as they recorded two points, making the score 27-29 in favor of USC. Clark managed to cut the lead to one, but that was not enough because the Trojans would end the set on a Murphy Troy kill.

“In the fourth game they changed what they were doing and we didn’t; we have to adapt better,” DuFault said.

What once looked like an Anteater victory now seemed doubtful. The Trojans entered the fifth and final set with all the momentum due to the fact that they were able to force a fifth set. On the other hand, the ’Eaters looked deflated and perplexed that the match had gotten to this point.

In the final set, it would be the first team to 15 points that would ultimately decide the winner. DuFault was able to tie the score at 11-11 after firing a ball that fell on the Trojans’ side. However, USC responded by going on a four to one run, ending the set at 12-15 and the match at 2-3.

With the loss against USC, the Anteaters fall to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play. The ’Eaters will get their shot at revenge, since these two teams meet again on April first. “We have looked at why we lost because USC is a team that we are going to have to play again,” DuFault said.