UCI-USC: The Duke-North Carolina of College Volleyball

Rivalries exist in every place imaginable: between siblings, friends and co-workers. However, some of the best rivalries can be found in  sports.

Rivalries define sports and exist at every level. In the National Football League, the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots always produce memorable games. Every time the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics meet up on the hardwood, punches and elbows are thrown. The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox epitomize the word “rivalry.” At the collegiate level, look no further than Michigan and Ohio State Football and Duke and North Carolina basketball.

In these rivalries, bragging rights are thrown out the window. In a match up between any of the aforementioned teams, the stakes are higher, hatred runs through every vein, bad blood courses deeper and the moments produced by a classic rivalry last a lifetime.

Peyton Manning’s comeback against arch nemesis Bill Belichick and the Patriots in the 2007 AFC Championship will forever be cemented in history. One of the greatest moments in Laker-Celtic history is when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis. Then there are the Yankees, Red Sox and Aaron “Bleeping” Boone’s walk-off home run against Tim Wakefield. Boone’s homerun came in the bottom of the 11th in game seven of the 2003 American League Championship Series. The homer sent the Yankees into the World Series, kicked the Red Sox out the postseason and added one more year to the Boston frustration. However, Boston’s disappointment ended in 2006 when the Rex Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the hated Bronx Bombers.

Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson produced two of the greatest memories in the Michigan and Ohio State history. Howard and Woodson both returned punts to help secure a Wolverine victory against the Buckeyes. The punt returns not only gave Michigan a berth into the Rose Bowl in 1991 and 1997, but both players also used their returns to propel themselves into the Heisman Fraternity.

Every year, North Carolina and Duke compete in the Battle of Tobacco Road. These two basketball powerhouses compare wins and championships. However, in years past, when these two schools were at the pinnacle of college basketball, Duke and North Carolina also competed in sending the most players into the NBA. Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Vince Carter and Rasheed Wallace all donned the North Carolina baby blue at one point in their lives. Grant Hill, Christian Laettner and Corey Maggette all called Durham, North Carolina home.

Many will argue that Long Beach State is UC Irvine’s rival, as only a few miles separate the two schools. However, the rivalry that exists between USC and UCI volleyball is at another level.

Over the last two or three years, UCI and USC volleyball have formed a rivalry that compares to the likes of Michigan-Ohio State, Duke-UNC and Lakers-Celtics. Although the popularity of the sport does not compare with basketball or football, the Anteaters and the Trojans have produced some great moments.

This rivalry all started in May 2009, when the Trojans and the Anteaters competed for the national title. USC took a 2-1 set advantage. However, an Anteater team led by John Speraw, Ryan Ammerman and Carson Clark stormed back to capture the national championship in five sets.

The intensity between the two schools was turned up another notch last year. UCI opened up the 2010 season ranked No. 2 in the MPSF behind USC. When these two schools got together last January, 2,648 fans packed the Bren Events Center to witness the No. 1 team go toe to toe with the No. 2. team. In the first two sets UCI looked head and shoulders above the Trojans. However, the Trojans remained tough, bounced back and defeated the Anteaters in five sets.

In April 2010, the two schools got together once again and, this time, the game was held in L.A. The Anteaters took a two-to-one advantage, but the Trojans rallied to take the match in the five.

This  season is no different. UC Irvine and USC opened up the 2011 season tied for the No.1 spot in the MPSF. However, UCI has stumbled, losing to Cal Baptist and UC San Diego. But this slow start is not going to stop the Anteaters from challenging the Trojans.

A major part of a rivalry is the competition that exists between the two teams. There are times in a rivalry where one team is having a dominant season while the other team is having a down year. However, the familiarity and the hatred that exists between the two opponents will usually give the team with the down season extra motivation.

With the UCI-USC game one day away, don’t expect the Anteaters to fold and give up. The Trojans enter the match with No. 1 ranking and have yet to lose a set. In their first two games, USC swept both Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State. The Anteaters do not enter with the same success, but that should not stop John Speraw from having his boys ready to compete on Jan. 19.

If the ’Eaters are expected to pull off the upset, they will need the help of students, staff, faculty and surrounding community. Antourage and ’Eater Nation will need to arrive in full force and pack every seat in the Bren Events Center.

The Bren needs to be converted into an inhospitable environment. This should not be too hard for Anteater fans; after all, many fans dislike the USC Trojans.