UC Irvine 2 BYU 3
With UC Irvine’s recent volleyball struggles, last year’s national championship has become all but a distant memory. The Anteaters have lost five straight games against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opponents for the first time since April of 2005.
The ’Eaters returned home after an unpleasant trip to Hawaii to face the third ranked BYU Cougars. Carson Clark tied his career high with 29 kills while Jordan DuFault added a double-double of 16 kills and 10 digs. However, these valiant efforts were all for naught when UC Irvine failed to stop the bleeding and lost another devastating five-set match (28-30, 30-19, 30-23, 27-30, 15-17).
Just like last weekend against the Warriors, UCI continued to struggle with their service. The Anteaters lived and died on the service line, hitting nine service aces but also committing an atrocious display of 26 errors.
“There are certain aspects of our game where we are just not very good,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “We did not serve the ball very well tonight.”
It was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as far as the ’Eaters intensity and composure went throughout the match. In sets two and three, they looked every bit like a defending national champion; however, sets one, four and five proved to be a completely different story.
In the three sets that the Anteaters lost, they combined for a total of 17 service errors. UCI could not overcome this problem due to their lack of intensity on defense. The Cougars exposed the ’Eaters on the defensive side. They found the holes and fired balls that landed at the feet of many of the Anteater players.
“We did not play good defense tonight and we have talked about how we need to be a better defensive team,” Speraw said.
Despite service errors and lack of focus, the Anteaters gave the Cougars everything they could handle. After leading two sets to one, the ‘Eaters failed to shut the door on the Cougars in the fourth set and were taken into a very costly fifth and final set.
The Anteaters could not maintain a firm grasp on the fifth set as the score fluctuated from a tie to a one point deficit. Carson Clark fired a ball down the sideline that gave the Anteaters a one point lead of 11-10. Junior Corey Yoder added to the ’Eaters’ momentum as he recorded a huge block on one of the BYU players. However, UCI’s Achilles’ heel reared its ugly head as Austin D’Amore served a ball into the net. The next point went BYU’s way and now the score was once again tied at 13 all.
The Cougars went to serve but they, too, served into the net. Up 14-13, the Anteaters had a chance to win the match, but once again UCI would shoot themselves in the foot, as Clark could not find the court on his service.
The ’Eaters did not panic just yet. Jordan DuFault recorded a kill that gave the Anteaters a one point lead at 15-14. With the second match point in their hands, UCI could not capitalize. BYU stormed back and rallied for the next three points to end the last set at 15-17.
UC Irvine continues to free fall. The ’Eaters have significantly struggled in late game situations because they were unable to close out sets and matches. UCI has been involved in four five-set matches and have lost them all.
“We have been spending a lot of time playing fifth games and we haven’t gotten better at them,” Speraw said. “We are going to have to watch what we are doing and see what we can reevaluate.”
UC Irvine 3 BYU 0
Will the real Anteaters please stand up? Friday night’s match against BYU featured the team that played in last May’s title game and not the imposters that were riding a six game conference losing streak.
The biggest question going into Friday’s match was how the ’Eaters would respond after they suffered an excruciatingly painful loss the night before. The Anteaters answered this question with a dominating performance that ruined BYU’s trip to Southern California.
“We came out with some serious fire tonight and we needed that energy,” Speraw said.
Jordan DuFault led all players with 15 kills while Carson Clark added another 14, allowing the Anteaters to sweep the Cougars in three sets (34-32, 30-26, 30-23).
UCI was able to consistently defend throughout the three sets. The Anteaters held the Cougars to a .253 hitting percentage while out blocking them 12 to six. The ’Eaters cleaned up their act at the service line, recording three aces and more importantly, limiting their service errors to nine.
The Anteaters’ mental toughness was certainly tested in the first set that featured 22 ties and seven lead changes. Late in the first set, a Cougars’ kill was able to knot up the score at 28 apiece. BYU gave the Anteaters a chance to end the set as they fired a ball into the net. However, the ’Eaters were unable to capitalize on the BYU gift, as the Cougars tied the set once again at 29-29. UCI and BYU would go on to split the next six points where the score seesawed from a one point Anteater lead to a tied score.
D’Amore came up big with a kill, giving the Anteaters a one point lead at 33-32. After four unsuccessful set points, the fifth one proved to be a charm. Yoder was able to give the ’Eaters their first set victory as he fired a ball down the middle of the court.
“We usually start out flat, and to be able to win that one gave us the confidence to close out this team with a sense of urgency,” Carson Clark said.
After winning a very exciting first set, the Anteaters were able to remain focused and keep their composure throughout the next two sets.
“We recognize that we have the ability to smash teams, and when we smash teams we have a tendency to relax,” Speraw said. “We were up two sets and I told [the team] the attitude we bring into this game is going to be important.”
This was a much needed victory for the Anteaters’ morale. The ’Eaters ended their six game losing streak against MPSF opponents and also recorded their first victory at the Bren since Jan. 13.
Despite the fact that the game was played at the Bren Events Center, BYU had a virtual home since Eater Nation decided to stay home and complain about the dullness of Irvine.
“[BYU] had more fans than us, which made it real tough to play,” Clark saidw. “If we could get everyone out there, we would appreciate it; that extra fire the crowd brings means a lot to us.”
After a trip up north to Pacific and Stanford next week, UCI will come back home to re-match Cal State Northridge on Feb. 17, at the Bren Events Center.