We Beat the Beach
“Beat the beach! Beat the beach!” Chanting echoed throughout the Bren Events Center Friday night when no. 3 UC Irvine Anteaters faced off against the no. 7 Cal State Long Beach 49ers. This rivalry match went the full length of five sets with the ’Eaters coming out on top 3-2, improving their record to 3-3 for conference games and 6-3 for the overall season.
Energy levels were high as Connor Hughes, Daniel Stork, Kevin Tillie, Scott Kevorken, Colin Mehring and Jeremy Dejno took the court.
“It was fun to play with this crowd; all the students came and there were so many people fired up and screaming for us, so it was fun to play,” senior Tillie said. “With the crowd screaming for us, you just get the adrenaline and that helps us a lot.”
The two teams were pretty much dead even during the first set, exchanging points and keeping the score close. Serving seemed to be the ’Eaters’ Achilles’ heel though, as they missed eight serves, which translated to eight easy 49er points. The 49ers ended the set on top, winning 25-23.
The ’Eaters came out of the second set looking like a completely different team. Tillie, junior Dejno and sophomore Zack La Cavera took control, putting the ’Eaters in the lead throughout the entire set. Irvine won the second set easily 25-19 thanks to Tillie, Dejno and La Cavera’s combined efforts of 19 points through kills, aces and blocks.
“I think the big difference is we gave ourselves an opportunity to execute on a very simple game plan,” head coach David Kniffin said. “We missed eight serves in game one and that makes it hard to draw our opponent into a position where we can execute against them.”
An unfortunate turn of events took place at the start of the third set. Junior Stork, the ’Eaters’ setter, went down with a costly leg injury. He could not finish the game, leaving his 31 assists on the court. Senior Chris Austin replaced Stork as the Anteaters battled out the third set. It was a tied score, 4-4, but the 49ers soon took over and dominated the set thereafter. La Cavera made his fair share of contributions, but UCI fell short 20-25.
“Having one of your players go down with something that looks pretty grave is always a psychological challenge to overcome,” Kniffin said. “We have two setters with very different styles and we don’t switch between the two styles like it’s flipping a light switch.”
The ’Eaters were down 2-1 when the fourth set started. And with that in mind, they knew what was at stake if they lost this set. The option of losing was quickly diminished as the ’Eaters won easily 25-16; in short, they dominated. There was a different kind of energy that encompassed the team during this set — every loose ball was playable, every block was made and every assist was executed perfectly to transition into Irvine points. Then came the fifth and final set.
The final set started off in favor of Irvine with a missed serve by the 49ers. Irvine took a quick 5-2 lead, causing the 49ers to call a timeout. The Anteaters looked to their bench for key substitutions in this last set. Freshman middle blocker Jason Agopian came into the game, executing three major kills to contribute to the ’Eaters’ lead. Sophomore Travis Woloson entered the game and acquired an ace, putting Irvine up 14-11. Only one point away from a victory, Irvine took a timeout.
“We were just looking to put some air under the ball, get it high enough for one of our attackers to swing at it,” Kniffin said on his final timeout. “So all we said was, let’s get the ball up in the air on the pass, and let’s just let somebody step close to it and hit — that’s exactly what Tillie did.”
Tillie didn’t just swing at the ball; he killed it (no pun intended). It was the perfect setup, and Tillie took advantage of the opportunity to win the game. The ’Eaters won the final set 15-13, winning the match 3-2.
“We won the fourth set with a big lead, so it got us in a good rhythm for the fifth’s,” Tillie said in his comment about the final set. “We just kept going like we did the fourth set and we managed to get a win.”
The ’Eaters put up some big statistics this game. Tillie finished the game with 21 kills and eight digs. La Cavera had a solid 14 kills with Dejno not far behind with 13 kills. Austin ended the game with 25 crucial assists. Agopian and Woloson had little playing time, but came in and score important points for the ’Eaters in the fifth set. Mehring had eight kills, Hughes with five and Kevorken with four.
All in all, it was a team effort that ended in a “W.”