Bren Events Center opened its doors yet again on Friday, Feb. 28, for the first time since their last home victory over Pepperdine two weeks prior. This time welcoming the No. 6 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos, the ’Eaters stepped onto the court, greeted by a small, but enthusiastic crowd of devoted fans ready to see another competitive game of men’s volleyball.
Head coach David Kniffin sent out yet another strong line-up of players, four of which recorded kills in the double digits. Junior outside hitter Connor Hughes not only tied his season-high with a total of 15 kills, but recorded a career-high of 14 digs. Middle blocker Scott Kevorken also recorded a career-high with 14 kills followed up by four block assists while senior outside hitter Jeremy Djeno had 13 kills and a career-best of 6 block assists. Middle blocker Collin Mehring totaled 10 kills and 6 block assists with setter Daniel Stork racking up 50 set assists and a season-high 8 digs.
The Anteaters hit the ground running in the first set. A stuck block by Jeremy Djeno and Collin Mehring helped the ’Eaters lead 8-3 in the early beginnings of the set, followed up with a kill by Scott Kevorken allowing them to pull ahead 13-6. An attack error by UCSB provided UC Irvine with a set point, consolidated with a kill by Scott Kevorken, taking the first set 25-17 with UCI hitting .303 in contrast with UCSB’s .103
UC Irvine continued to assert its dominance in the second set, jumping out to a 6-3 lead with two consecutive kills by Jeremy Djeno and Collin Mehring. The Anteaters scored the final three points, ending the set 25-19, with 20 kills, their highest amount of the evening, hitting .600. The third set was when it became more complicated for the ’Eaters. A kill by Scott Kevorken put UCI in the lead, 10-7, only to be countered by two consecutive kills by the Gauchos and an attack error by the Anteaters. Tied at 10-10, UCSB took a significant lead for the first time in the match with a kill and continued their roll, jumping ahead to 15-12. UCI continued to trail behind until a kill by freshman opposite Tamir Hershko tied things up at 22-22 with a roar of approval from the crowd. Tension continued to build as both teams were neck and neck, kills coming from both sides of the net. UCSB landed two kills, the final one produced after one of the longest rallies of the match, taking the tight set 26-24.
In the fourth and final set, the Anteaters refocused and resumed their aggressive and consistent play that won them the first two sets. A kill by Connor Hughes and service ace by Tamir Hershko gave the ’Eaters a boost of confidence, as they led 6-2. With encouraging yells and screams of excitement from the crowd, UCI finally arrived at their first match point, leading UCSB 24-17. The crowd leaped to their feet in anticipation of a swift victory, only having to wait until the fourth match point for a kill by Collin Mehring to send the Gauchos packing for the ninth straight time. The No. 9 Anteaters currently stand at 11-8 overall, and 8-7 in conference play. They travel next to Honolulu, Hawaii on Friday, Mar. 7 to face off Hawaii in a pari of weekend matches on the 7th and the 9th.
They return to home on Wednesday, Mar. 26 to take on the Cal State Northridge Matadors in an effort to continue their successful season and impressive play.