’Eaters Trump OSU
Prior to playing the UCLA Bruins on March 24, the ’Eaters had won six of their last eight matches and climbed to the fifth spot in the AVCA Coach’s Poll. However, against the Bruins, the Anteaters laid a stinker, losing in three sets: 20-25, 24-26 and 21-25.
Junior opposite Carson Clark led the team with 12 kills. Clark was the only player for UCI who recorded double-digit kills. Senior Jordan DuFault record six kills and Anthony Spittle dished out 26 assists in the loss.
Offensively, the ’Eaters struggled, hitting .183 for the game. In the first set, the Anteaters converted an abysmal .125 of their hitting opportunities and recorded a measly 10 kills in the opening frame.
UCI’s offensive struggles translated to the service line. The Anteaters hit three service aces but also committed 16 errors.
With the loss against the Bruins, the Anteaters’ Mountain Pacific Sports Federation conference record fell to 9-8.
UCI 3, OSU 0
After the flop against the Bruins, the ’Eaters returned to Crawford Court to face the No. 3 team in the nation in the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Anteaters used the Bruin loss as motivation and responded well against the Buckeyes, taking the match in three sets: 25-20, 25-22 and 25-18.
“We were embarrassed and we took it personally,” middle blocker Dan McDonnell said about the team’s response to the UCLA loss.
Senior Cory Yoder led the way for the Anteaters as he recorded 14 kills in the win. Clark helped the cause by tallying 11 kills, and Spittle dished out 34 assists.
Much of the Anteater success can be credited to their service. The ’Eaters committed 13 errors from the line but notched six aces, four of which came from Clark’s hand.
“We served a lot tougher,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “Jordan DuFault came out and hit the serve tough, Cory [Yoder] was serving a lot harder and Carson [Clark] put [OSU] in a lot of trouble with his serve.”
The Anteaters’ tough service created many offensive opportunities that UCI seized. In the first set the ’Eaters converted .273 of their hitting opportunities, but after that the offense settled in and found a rhythm. In the second set the ’Eaters hit .364 and in the final game, UCI notched a .429 hitting percentage.
In the opening set, Ohio State showed little resistance, as UCI led from start to finish. Despite hitting .269, the Buckeyes could only trim the deficit to three points. UCI remained in the driver’s seat due to a persistent blocking effort by McDonnell and freshman Scott Kevorken. In the first set, UCI recorded 5.5 blocks and misdirected 11 of Ohio State’s kill attempts.
After struggling to find any sort of rhythm, the Buckeyes presented a challenge in the second game. OSU raised their hitting percentage to .312 and held the lead throughout the second set. Down 21-18, Clark showed why he is considered UCI’s game-changer. The junior opposite ripped off three straight kills, tying the game at 21 a piece. The rest of the Anteaters rode Clark’s momentum as they stormed back by taking four of the final five points.
In the final game, OSU and UCI split the first two points, but that was as close as the Buckeyes would come to grabbing the lead. The Anteaters jumped out to their largest lead in the game at 11-3 and never looked back. Yoder’s seven kills and McDonnell’s five kept the Anteaters in control with a steady seven-point lead.
With the non-conference win against the Buckeyes, the ’Eaters improve to 13-11 overall. UCI will remain at home as they look for revenge on March 30 when they host UCLA in the final home game of the season.
If the Anteaters hope to make a deep run in the MPSF tournament and reach the Final Four, they will need to find their stride on the road, as their final four matches of the season are all away from Irvine.