The Bullied Become Bullies
Disappointment struck the hearts of Antourage and ’Eater Nation on Jan. 5 as the Lancers of Cal Baptist shocked the No. 1 team in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. The Anteaters’ five-set defeat to the NAIA school brought flashes of the 2010 season that typified an inability to close out opponents in the late stages of matches.
On Jan. 12, UC Irvine’s home opener against UC San Diego, salt was added to an early-season wound. The Tritons stormed into the Bren Events Center and upended the Anteaters in four sets: 25-16, 19-25, 22-25 and 28-30.
“We lost our fire after the first set,” senior Anthony Spittle said. “We have to learn how to battle through the lows and maintain our focus.”
Spittle entered the fourth set, handing out eight assists. Spittle’s presence gave the ’Eaters an 18-16 lead in the fourth frame, but UCSD proved to be too much as the Anteaters failed to hold on to their lead.
Carson Clark led the Anteater charge with 14 kills. Seniors Corey Yoder and Jordan DuFault added seven and five kills respectively in the losing effort. Although the 2011 team is mostly made up of upperclassmen, there are a lot of freshmen that Coach John Speraw will need to rely on. Setter Daniel Stork dished out 29 assists and outside hitter Jeremy Dejno notched eight kills in the losing effort.
Last year, service became a weakness for the ’Eaters. Against the Tritons, the same problem persisted. UCI committed 20 service errors as they served the ball into the net or out of bounds. The Anteaters bring an intimidating speed to the service line, firing the ball at a lightning pace. However, this velocity will not be an advantage until the Anteaters become more consistent from the line.
UCSD also exposed the Anteaters’ defense. On many occasions, many of UCI’s middle blockers were caught out of position, leaving the middle of the court wide open and the back line exposed. The Tritons were able to feast on this as they hit .500 in the second set.
“We did not play great defense,” Speraw said. “We out-blocked them by a bunch but they gave themselves a few more opportunities when it mattered by playing good defense.”
If UC Irvine does not correct its struggles at the service line and find a consistent defense, there will be no way the ’Eaters will be able to compete with the upper echelon teams in the MPSF.
“We are going to have to serve tougher and more [consistently]. We are going to have dig more balls and find our connection with Carson [Clark],” Speraw said.
UCI 3 UCSB 0
If UC Irvine’s first two home games are any indication of how the rest of the season will turn out, then Anteater fans are in for another topsy-turvy season.
The ’Eaters used 14 kills by the Carson Clark and 37 assists by freshman setter, Daniel Stork in order to dominate the UCSB Gauchos in three sets: 25-21, 25-22 and 25-23.
“We played a whole lot better. I’m actually impressed with the turn around we had in just a two-day period,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “There was a lot of things that went wrong against [UC] San Diego and I was not sure if we could make those corrections in a two-day period.”
After putting on a lackluster performance against the Tritons of UC San Diego, the Anteaters control every facet of the game. UCI recorded 14 more kills, 11 more assists, four more digs and two more blocks.
Much of the Anteaters success has to be given to the defense. UC Irvine’s front line made a consistent effort to guard the net and protect the backline, something they failed to do against the Tritons. The ’Eaters held the Gauchos to a .040 hitting percentage in the first set, .231 in the second and .200 in the last frame.
Along with the stellar play of UCI’s defense was the play of the Anteaters’ three starting freshmen. Stork had a solid performance at the setter position. Freshman outside hitter Jeremy Dejno recorded nine kills and first-year libero John Caroompas tallied nine digs.
The men’s volleyball team proved that they have the ability to bully teams. However, the real challenge is going to be stringing three or four consecutive dominating games together. If the Anteaters can find some type of continuity they will be a dangerous team to contend with.
The Anteaters will host rival USC on Wednesday, Jan. 19 and the Pepperdine Waves on Friday, Jan. 21. Both games will be played at the Bren and will start at 6 p.m.