Trojans’ High Horse Stands Tall
UCI 1, USC 3
On Jan. 19, the UC Irvine Anteaters hosted the USC Trojans, seeking revenge for last year’s two five-set losses. The Trojans entered the match against the ’Eaters with an unblemished record, as they swept both Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State.
The ’Eaters fought hard to derail USC’s perfect record but in the end, the Trojans’ high horse trotted out of the Bren with a four-set victory: 16-25, 25-27, 29-27 and 17-25.
“This team is capable of being a good team but we are going to go through some ups and downs because we have some young guys on the court,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “You could see that tonight. There were some plays where all three touches were by true freshmen, and that is not going to make for the most smooth of seasons.”
Senior Cory Yoder led the team with 18 kills, while junior Carson Clark and freshman Jeremy Dejno each chipped in with 10. Freshman Daniel Stork and senior Anthony Spittle combined to dish out 25 helpers in the losing effort.
The Trojans dominated the ’Eaters in almost every statistical category. USC out-hit UCI, .351 to .242, they recorded 15 more kills, handed out 10 more assists and dug 10 more balls than the Anteaters.
In the first set, the Anteaters looked overmatched. USC forced the Anteaters into six attack errors, bringing their hitting percentage down to .000. On the defensive end, the ’Eaters did not fare so well. UCI allowed USC to find holes in their defense, as the Trojans converted .360 of their hitting opportunities.
After dropping the first set, the Anteaters regained their composure in the second set. UCI’s hitting percentage jumped to .297 and the defense played with a greater sense of urgency, holding the Trojans to .289. UCI’s improved play in the second game put them one point away from taking the second set. However, the Anteaters squandered a two-point lead at 24-22, allowing the Trojans to end the set on 5-1 run.
The third set saw UCI’s best offensive performance, converting .405 of their killing opportunities. Late in the third set, the Anteaters found themselves down by two points at 22-24, but a Clark kill and a Trojans attack error knotted the game at 24. From that point forward, the Trojans and ’Eaters exchanged blows until Clark and middle blocker Scott Kevorken gave UCI extra momentum with two final kills.
The third set loss was the first game lost by the Trojans all season long. USC has won the last three matches against the Anteaters. These two rivals will play again on March 12 in Los Angeles.
UCI 3, Pepperdine 2
The Pepperdine Waves walked into the Bren Events Center with two consecutive five-set losses. On Friday, Jan. 21, UC Irvine added to their misery.
The Anteaters needed Carson Clark’s career high of 35 kills, Cory Yoder’s career high of 21, and Anthony Spittle and Daniel Stork’s combined effort of 72 assists to escape with a five-set victory: 25-18, 27-29, 23-25, 25-20 and 21-19.
“Anthony [Spittle] set a very good game, if anyone should get the credit it should be him,” Clark said of his career-high night.
After blowing an early 5-2 lead, the Anteaters found themselves trailing at 11-12 in the fifth set. However, UCI reclaimed the lead after Pepperdine’s Matt Pollock served into the net and Yoder fired the ball down the right side of court. Pollock redeemed himself by tying the game at 14 apiece.
After watching the Waves battle tough, Clark took over the game. The junior outside hitter recorded six of the team’s final seven kills, including the last three that sealed the game for the ’Eaters.
The ’Eaters earned a first set victory by converting a whopping .619 of their hitting opportunities, holding the Waves to a .250 killing percentage and limiting their service errors to three. After a convincing first set victory, the Anteaters flopped in games two and three.
In the second and third games, the Waves exploited the ’Eaters’ frontline, leaving the back defenders helpless to dig balls. The Waves hit .455 in the second and third frame.
“I would love to see us defend better,” Speraw said. “We are not digging many balls. Our blocks for most of the year have been even or greater than our opponents, for the most part.”
Although the Anteaters’ defense did not play spectacular in sets four and five, the team played well enough to pull out the victory. UCI allowed the Waves to convert .458 of their hitting opportunities in the fourth game and .385 in the fifth set. It was the Anteaters’ offense that picked up the slack for the defense. Clark, Yoder and company went on a tear in the last two games, hitting .562 and .583 in sets four and five respectively.
“It is always good to have teams that can grind out ugly wins,” Speraw said. “Anytime you can do that it gives your team a lot of confidence.”
The Anteaters will not return to the Bren until Feb. 16, as they travel to BYU on Jan. 28 and 29, Penn State on Feb. 4 and 5, Pacific on Feb. 11 and Stanford on Feb. 12.