UCI 1, USC 3
Bob Yoder’s retired No. 15 jersey hung high in the rafters of the Galen Center among USC elites like Cheryl Miller, Lisa Leslie and Paul Westphal.
Down below, UCI’s No. 15 and Bob Yoder’s son Cory stood on the sideline and watched helplessly as the Trojans put the final nail in the coffin.
“I put [Jeremy] Dejno in there, which was the hardest sub I had to do this year because I had to take Cory Yoder out,” Head Coach John Speraw said. “He has had such an outstanding year and playing in a match like this against [USC] there was just so much reason where I needed to take Cory out. We needed someone else who we could throw the ball up to because Carson [Clark] was just OK.”
The Anteaters entered Thursday night’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinal match on a seven-match winning streak. In that streak, it was Yoder who stirred the drink, combining for a .482 hitting percentage during that span.
The Trojans took note of this and made sure to neutralize the fifth-year senior. Through two and a half sets, Yoder recorded four kills on 18 attempts. USC’s right-side block, which consisted of Murphy Troy and Reilly McKibbin, rendered Yoder ineffective, holding him to a .105 hitting percentage, by far his lowest output of the season.
USC managed to shut down the All-American, but in their four-set victory (19-25, 25-22, 20-25, 23-25) it was the Trojans’ muscle, speed and flare that ended UCI’s seven-game winning streak, the collegiate careers of Yoder, Jordan DuFault, Anthony Spittle and Kevin Wynne and more importantly, any hopes that the Anteaters had to claim their third title in five years.
DuFault led the team with 16 kills and Clark managed to put away 14, while Spittle served up 45 assists in the loss.
Despite losing in four sets, the Anteaters had many opportunities to come up with a win.
“Today was absolutely there for the taking,” a somber Speraw said. “The hardest part was that we had some good opportunities, but we just didn’t get great sets and great swings.”
The 1,550 fans in the Galen Center witnessed why the Trojans are ranked No. 1 in the nation. USC muscled ball after ball, and all UCI could do was watch. After the first set, the Trojans plateaued, giving the ’Eaters a chance to get right back into the match.
“I think we were trying to get too cute as the match wore on,” USC’s Head Coach Bill Ferguson said. “In the second game our service game fell off – we were making too many errors.”
Six attack errors and six service errors by Trojans combined with one hitting error and three serving errors led to a second-set victory for the ’Eaters. In sets three and four the ’Eaters went toe-to-toe with the Trojans, but costly mental errors proved to be the difference.
The Anteaters had no answer for USC’s dual attack of Troy and Tony Ciarelli, who finished the match with 17 and 23 kills, respectively. On the other side, USC’s libero Henry Cassiday kept the ’Eaters off balance by recording 19 timely digs.
During the seven-match win streak, it was UCI’s service and offense that carried them, but this was not the case against the Trojans. The Anteaters recorded just two aces against 13 service errors. In the regular season, the Anteaters saved their worst hitting performances for top-ranked USC, hitting .242 in the Jan. 19 match and .240 on March 12, and although the ’Eaters put away .328 of their opportunities on Thursday night, it still wasn’t enough to overcome the mighty Trojans.
With the semifinal loss, the Anteaters, who hold the No. 2 spot in the AVCA rankings, will not receive a shot to prove their ranking and compete for the national title.
“I think we are playing pretty good volleyball and we are probably the No. 2 team in America,” Speraw said. “But we are not going to compete in the national championship because the hot team is supposed to use the [conference] tournament [to get in], and we came up short.”
Although UCI made a deeper run in the MPSF Tournament than BYU and Stanford, both teams swept the Anteaters in the regular season. The ’Eaters did not help themselves by dropping the season opening match against NAIA opponent, Cal Baptist, and recording a 3-2 record against non-ranked teams.
“I would have liked the opportunity to get a couple of wins against some of those teams earlier in the year, but it’s tough to win at BYU,” Speraw said. “We had our chances versus Stanford too, but we just didn’t do it.”