Irvine is known for its sunny, warm weather but on Wednesday, Feb. 17, CSU Northridge was given the cold shoulder by UC Irvine. Cal State Northridge, ranked number one in the nation, entered the match hoping to bully the Anteaters around; however, the ’Eaters were the ones that did more of the shoving.
The ’Eaters assumed the role of rude host as they dismantled the Matadors in four sets, 3-1 (30-23, 16-30, 30-21, 30-25). UC Irvine was led by both Jordan DuFault and Corey Yoder, as each served up double-doubles of 17 kills and 10 digs.
The Anteaters were able to boss around the supposed number one team by playing stingy defense and overwhelming them on the offensive end. The ’Eaters continued to improve on the service line, striking gold with eight service aces while limiting their errors to 16.
However, UCI continues to be plagued by their mistaken identity crisis. The first set featured a very determined and hungry Anteater squad. The ’Eaters defense seemed to be the key to a first set victory, as they out dug the Matadors 20 to 15 and out blocked them three to one.
“I liked our defense tonight, I thought we did a good job on what they were trying to do,” Head Coach John Speraw said.
In the second set the Anteaters went into hiding. UCI completely fell apart, which left Eater Nation asking what had happened to the team that they saw in the first set. The Matadors had their way against an inexistent Anteater defense, as CSUN was able to convert .594 of their killing opportunities. Poor play on defense led to poor play on the offensive side. The Anteaters struggled to play consistent offense, as they were only able to kill for an average of .121. This forced Coach Speraw to insert freshman setter Ian Wynne to find some sort of spark.
“[Wynne] provided us with a defensive lift as well as an offensive lift with his setting,” Speraw said.
After trailing from start to finish in the second game, it was up to the Anteaters to rebound and not let their first set victory go to waste.
“We started off really hot but they are a really good team and came back,” Jordan DuFault said. “We did not pass and serve as well as we could have but we managed to fight back in the last two sets.”
Tied at 13 apiece, DuFault fired a ball for a kill that not only gave the ’Eaters a one point lead but also proved to be a catalyst for a 17-8 run. The Anteaters used a barrage of kills, blocks and aces to force momentum to their side. DuFault and middle blocker Austin D’Amore imitated the Matadors at the net, recording four blocks and forcing 10 attack errors.
UCI’s lack of intensity in the second set was surely made up in the third, as they held the Matadors to a .088 killing percentage. The Anteaters were also able to capitalize on Matador senior Mike Gaudino, repeatedly attacking him for points on serves until he was taken out of the game.
UCI continued to roll into the fourth set. The Anteaters claimed the first four points of the set, which ignited an 8-3 run. The ’Eaters played with a sense of urgency to prevent going into a fifth set.
“We haven’t had too much success in five set matches, so we decided that we were not going into a fifth set, and we were going to beat them in four,” DuFault said.
The Anteaters were able to do just that, as they went for the jugular and turned off the lights on the Matadors. CSUN was not able to regain their composure, as the Anteaters remained in the driver’s seat and never relinquished their lead.
With this win, UCI gets back to .500 with an 8-8 overall record, including a 4-7 mark in conference play. With the win against top ranked Northridge (11-4, 8-4), UCI will also hopefully re-enter the top ten in the national polls.
After a trip to Long Beach on Feb. 24, the Anteaters will return to the friendly confines of the Bren Events Center to face UC San Diego on Feb. 26 in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match.