UC Irvine went up to Palo Alto this past Saturday only to get bounced out of the MPSF playoffs. The Anteaters’ 2010 season ended with a second straight loss to Stanford (26-30, 30-28, 25-30, 27-20).
Carson Clark recorded a team-high of 23 kills followed by Jordan DuFault’s 18. However, both of these players struggled with their offensive attack. Clark finished the match with a .224 hitting percentage, including a -.800 percentage in the opening set. DuFault did not fare any better, as he hit for a .205 percentage.
Last time these two teams got together, UCI shot themselves in the foot by committing 28 service errors. This time the Anteaters only committed 11 but it was nullified, as the Anteaters could not find an offensive rhythm. Stanford kept UCI in check, as the Anteaters were only able to covert .243 of their hitting opportunities.
The Anteaters struggled on the defensive end as well. The Cardinal was able to hit .349 against a nonexistent Anteater defense. UCI could not find an answer for Stanford’s Evan Romero, as he notched a game-high of 24 kills.
“We had plenty of matches this year that we out-hit and out-blocked our opponents and lost … tonight we got beat in every facet of the game,” Head Coach John Speraw said.
UCI’s season started out with lots of promise, as they opened up with a No. 2 ranking. After starting out strong with a 4-1 record, UCI faced the USC Trojans, who at the time claimed the No. 1 ranking. Despite taking the first two sets with authority, UCI would drop the match in five. This loss would soon prove to be a detrimental theme for the Anteaters.
The Anteaters played in ten five-set matches and were only able to win one of those games. This illustrates that the ’Eaters certainly had the capabilities and the talent to make a strong national title defense, as most of these matches were against top-caliber teams. However, this also demonstrates that UCI lacked the mental toughness to close out games.
The Anteaters also struggled to find any form of consistency, as their longest win streak reached only four games. This could have been due to the fact that the ’Eaters could not find solid play at the setter position. Coach John Speraw was forced to start three different setters: juniors Jeff Schmitz and Anthony Spittle, and redshirt freshman Ian Wynne.
Service was another factor that plagued UCI. Most of the matches that were lost in five sets were due to poor service. At one point UCI lost three straight five-set matches, two to Hawaii and one to BYU. In those three matches the Anteaters recorded a total of 76 service errors. In last week’s five-set loss to Stanford, UCI recorded 28 service errors.
When UCI did not shoot themselves in the foot, they proved that they could potentially be the best team in the nation. After dropping a five-set match against BYU, UCI came back the next night to sweep the Cougars. The Anteaters also took down CSU Northridge, who was ranked number one at the time. UCI’s lone five-set victory came against a second ranked Pepperdine team.
The Anteaters struggled because of service errors, inconsistent play and an inability to close teams out. However, one cannot overlook the losses of libero Brent Asuka and setter Ryan Ammerman. These two senior players were huge for the ’Eaters last season.
Next season the ’Eaters should be contending for an MPSF title, if not more. The Anteaters will return their entire starting lineup, all three setters, and as always, a strong incoming recruiting class.