Back With A Vengeance

Eric Lim/New University

UCI 3, UCLA 1

On Wednesday, March 30 the UC Irvine Anteaters had everything to play for – they needed to avenge an embarrassing three-set loss to the Bruins on March 24, it was senior night and a win would secure their playoff berth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation postseason – but in the first set and for most of the second, it appeared that none of this mattered.

In the opening game, the Bruins manhandled the Anteaters. UCLA recorded a .478 hitting percentage, hit two aces and stuffed UCI’s Jordan DuFault on two separate occasions. The Anteaters struggled to find an offensive rhythm, hitting .278 and recording six costly service errors. The Anteaters’ defense floundered as they failed to record a single block.

Despite inserting Jeremy Dejno, Kevin Wynne and Will Thomas, UCI’s struggles continued in the second game. The ’Eaters’ hitting percentage dipped down to .259, and their service continued to suffer, recording five more errors. After UCLA’s Nick Vogel blocked a Carson Clark kill attempt, putting the Bruins up at 20-16, frustration became palpable as another sweep at the hands of UCLA in less than a week’s time was foreseeable.

As the second set came to a close, the Anteaters found themselves down by three at 23-20.

“We have to remember that we have some match left,” Head Coach John Speraw told his team during a timeout, “and I know that you are frustrated because of the way things have been going against this team so far. We have to remember to keep our heads up, continue to work hard and just give all of our effort to see if we can make a comeback.”

UCLA’s freshman Gonzalo Quiroga stepped onto the service line looking to seal another Bruin victory. Instead, the freshman served the ball into the net and it ended up being the catalyst for UCLA’s demise. The Anteaters recorded the next three out of four points, two of which came from UCLA errors, and all of a sudden the score was knotted up at 24 apiece.

Dejno took the ball, stepped behind the service line and fired a rocket, leaving the Bruins to helplessly watch as the ball stayed inbounds for a UCI ace. Once more, Dejno took the ball and fired another missile that ricocheted off the hands of a UCLA player and sailed into the stands.

With Dejno’s two consecutive aces, the Anteaters stole the second set away from the Bruins and rode that momentum to close out the match in four sets: 19-25, 26-24, 25-20 and 25-15.

“I saw Dejno [hit two aces] and that freed my serve up because I knew [UCLA] was worried about it,” Clark said.

Dejno carried the momentum to the third game as he began the set with his third consecutive ace. The rest of the team fed off this energy, as they recorded nine aces in the three sets that they won. Dejno, who entered the game with 13 career aces, finished the match with five. Clark added two more and led all players with 22 kills. Junior outside hitter/middle blocker Kevin Carroll added another two aces.

“We had to serve tough in order to get an opportunity to play against [UCLA’s] outside hitters, and we did that tonight, much better than the first time we played,” Speraw said.

As the Anteaters’ service improved, so did other facets of their game. After escaping with a second set victory, the Anteaters recorded a .429 hitting percentage in game three and converted a whopping .500 of their killing opportunities in the final set.

In sets three and four, UCI blocked three balls and misdirected nine UCLA kill attempts.

With the win, the ’Eaters secured a playoff spot in the MPSF. The challenge now for UCI is reeling off four straight wins, which are all on the road, and securing the fourth seed in the MPSF postseason.

UCI 3, UCSB 1

UC Irvine’s final road trip of the 2011 season started off on the right foot on Friday, April 1. Clark recorded 19 kills, Yoder added another 14 and the Anteaters toppled No. 8 UC Santa Barbara in four sets: 27-29, 25-18, 25-19 and 25-14.

Just like Wednesday night’s match against the Bruins, the ’Eaters needed to battle out of a 1-0 hole. In the first set, the Anteaters hit for a pedestrian .273 hitting percentage and allowed the Gauchos to convert .345 of their hitting opportunities.

After a heartbreaking first set loss, the Anteaters regained their footing. In the three games that the ’Eaters won, they hit .444 in the second set, .435 in the third and .455 in the final game. Their defense also picked up the intensity, holding the Gauchos to a hitting percentage of .286, .167 and .143 in sets two, three and four respectively.

Much of this defensive and offensive success has to be credited to the Anteaters’ service, which continues on a torrid pace.

Although UCI recorded 17 service errors, they hit seven aces to UCSB’s one.

The Anteaters push their winning streak to three and improve their overall record to 15-11, with a conference record of 11-8.

The ’Eaters will remain on the road to face Long Beach State on April 6 and Cal State Northridge on April 9, two teams that UCI defeated earlier in the season.