Comeback Kings: UCI Wins MPSF
UCI 3, USC 2
Last year, UC Irvine was unable to find a solution to Tony Ciarelli and Murphy Troy in the MPSF Men’s volleyball semifinals, as they took a 3-1 loss at the Galen Center. On April 26, the Anteaters (23-5 overall) got their retribution in a fashionable come-from-behind 3-2 victory.
USC’s Tony Ciarelli had a phenomenal 22 kills, but the Anteaters kept the rest of the USC lineup in single digit kills. Irvine junior Kevin Tillie had a career-high 23 kills while sophomore Scott Kevorken dominated in net protection with two blocks and six block assists. But the key contributor was senior Kevin Carroll, who replaced sophomore Connor Hughes after the second set and hit an outstanding .476 to keep Irvine’s engine running in the final three sets.
After losing the first set 26-24, Irvine faced an injury scare during the second set while up 9-8. Kevin Tillie rolled his ankle over a teammate’s foot during the play and had to be rolled off to the side. The game grew stagnant from there as the two teams remained close. After stretching and warming up from the sidelines, Tillie came back while the team was down 18-16 and showed no signs of slowing down as he made a kill in his first play back.
“I think it’s the adrenaline in being warm,” Tillie said. “It was fine, I just wanted to play more.”
Unfortunately, service and hitting errors plagued the Anteaters who could’ve easily taken the game if it weren’t for the free points they gave to the Trojans. They dropped the second set 25-23.
Head coach John Speraw made a key substitution before the third set, replacing Connor Hughes who was hitting a dismal .150, including seven hitting errors to 10 kills, with Kevin Carroll. The substitution paid off as Carroll contributed four kills and a service ace to help UCI trounce their way to a 25-16 win to stay in the match.
“There were a couple plays where he [Connor Hughes] wasn’t doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing. I could tell that he was a little frustrated,” head coach John Speraw said. “He had some bad hitting errors. I could tell by the look in his face that he didn’t have his usual enthusiasm. We were down 0-2, so I decided to throw in a senior.”
Irvine kept their momentum running in the fourth set, starting off 8-3 after senior Carson Clark and Kevin Tillie put their killing skills on display. However, Tony Ciarelli carried his team’s offensive load for a long stretch to tie the match 21-21. Despite leading 26-25, USC saw their lead crumble after a service error tied the game. The Anteaters fought back with a kill by super-sub Kevin Carroll and tied the match 2-2 after Kevin Tillie struck a service ace.
“I think we were getting more into the game at some point. We get fired up and we lost thoughts of being nervous.”
The Anteaters took advantage of an exhausted Ciarelli in the final set. The USC star only made one kill and the Anteaters outhit the Trojans .360 to .053. With the game tied at 6-6, UCI went on a 7-2 run to take a 13-8 lead. The ’Eaters made easy work out of the USC offense, recovering majority of the hits to maintain control of the ball. Kevin Tillie smashed a kill for the final point.
“One of our strengths is that we have guys who can hit the ball hard,” said Speraw. “Our defense, at least over the course of the season, hasn’t been as good as some other teams.”
UCI 3, Stanford 2
The Anteaters punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament on April 28 by winning the MPSF championship in dramatic fashion. Saturday night’s match against Stanford resembled Thursday night’s game, as UCI (24-5) once again came back from a 2-0 deficit to clinch the match. Irvine will face off against the Penn State Nittany Lions on Thursday, May 3 in the Galen Center at 7 p.m. The match will be broadcasted on ESPNU.
Junior Kevin Tillie set a career high again, breaking his previous record from Thursday with 24 kills. Connor Hughes bounced back from a dismal performance on Thursday with a career-high 19 kills while hitting .515. Carson Clark was selected as the most outstanding player of the tournament after recording 19 kills and five block assists.
After taking a tough 27-25 loss in the second set to give Stanford a 2-0 advantage, UCI regained their focus and showed Stanford why they are ranked No. 2 in the nation. Irvine outhit Stanford .367 to .171. The Cardinals’ nine errors attributed to their sloppy hitting. Nevertheless, the set was close majority of the third set until senior Dan McDonnell made a kill and a block assist with Tillie to give UCI a 20-18 lead. Carson Clark gave the demoralizing blow as he pounded an overpass committed by Stanford to give UCI a 23-19 lead. Clark made a kill and Stanford committed an error to give UCI the set.
The Cardinals never came within two points after Tillie smacked a pair of kills followed by a kill by Hughes to give UCI a 17-13 lead. Hughes would make the final kill to win Irvine’s second set 25-21 and put the match in its fifth round.
UCI was tied 10-10 with Stanford until senior Austin D’Amore knocked down a kill and junior Chris Austin surprisingly made a solo block to give UCI a 12-10 lead. A kill by Carson Clark ended the match 15-12 in favor of UCI as the players rushed onto the court to celebrate their incredible comeback.