UCI 3, UH 0
In the opening round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, the University of Hawaii put UC Irvine under pressure. But just like the two previous meetings that took place in late February, the ’Eaters responded every time.
In the first set the Anteaters and the Warriors looked evenly matched, as neither team could build more than a one-point lead. The scored was tied on 26 separate occasions and the lead flopped six different times.
After Hawaii’s Steven Hunt put away a kill to tie the score at 23 apiece, Brennon Dyer fired an ace, giving the Warriors their first set point at 24-23. With their backs against the wall, UCI’s Jordan DuFault fired a kill and knotted the score at 24. After splitting the next two points, the Anteaters’ workhorse, Carson Clark, put away the next two balls for a 28-26 opening-set victory.
After winning a dramatic opening set, the ’Eaters found themselves on the ropes once again. The Warriors built an early four-point lead and threatened to take the second set. After a Hunt kill tied the game at 23, Hawaii’s Joshua Walker fired an ace to put the Warriors one point away from evening up the match.
With the score knotted up at 24, the Anteaters and the Warriors tugged at the emotional heart strings of the 788 fans that packed Crawford Court, as both teams split the next eight points. Tied at 28, Walker shot his team in the foot by serving into the net. The Anteaters took advantage of the miscue as Anthony Spittle fed the ball to Clark who put the second game away with a kill.
“There were several types of pressure that we had to deal with,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “In game one we had a tight game the whole way through. In the second game we were down so we had a different type of pressure and in the third game we were up so we had a different type of pressure.”
After winning the first two sets where both teams left everything on the court, the Anteaters led from start to finish in the third to cap off the sweep of the Warriors: 28-26, 30-28 and 25-21.
“There was nothing about it that was easy,” Speraw said. “We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle.”
And a battle it was, as the ’Eaters did not overwhelm Hawaii on the stat sheet despite taking the match in three. The Anteaters totaled four more kills, recorded two more digs and one more ace than the Warriors.
In the end, it was UCI’s three-headed monster that spearheaded the win. Clark led the team with 17 kills, while DuFault added 13 and Cory Yoder finished the match with 12. Setter Anthony Spittle played catalyst, handing out 51 assists in the win.
“The last two weeks I have been pretty nervous about this match because it was my senior year and losing would have been my season and my career,” Spittle said. “Knowing the game plan so well is what helped me clam my nerves and helped me execute.”
In the first two sets, the Anteaters allowed the Warriors to hit for .588 in game one and .472 in the second. But what saved the ’Eaters was their offense which was equally as impressive. UCI converted .588 of their killing opportunities in the first set and .447 in game two.
The Anteaters were able to contain the Warrior offense once Speraw called on Dan McDonnell to replace Scott Kevorken, who made the MPSF All-Freshman team. Once Speraw inserted McDonnell, the Anteaters were able to get their hands on a couple of the Warriors’ kill attempts, blocking five and misdirecting 10 balls in sets two and three.
Speraw continued to show his genius by substituting Kevin Carroll and Jeremy Dejno, who came off the bench and provided tough serves.
“We have been having some great contributions from the bench all season long,” Speraw said. “We felt comfortable going to these guys and we have been doing it all year.”
The Anteaters will now travel to the Galen Center on Thursday, April 28 to take on the No. 1 seeded USC Trojans, a team they have not beaten since the national title game in 2009. The winner of the semi-finals match will advance to play the MPSF championship game on April 30, also at the Galen Center.
“I can’t wait to play USC,” Clark said. “They have one of the most talented teams right now. They are big and huge … I can’t wait.”