No. 8 UC Irvine Loses Nonconference Opener, Wins Outrigger Invitational in Hawaii

UC Irvine 0 Lewis University 3

No. 8 UC Irvine men’s volleyball dropped its season opener at the Bren Events Center as No. 9 Lewis swept the Anteaters in straight sets (25-22, 25-21, 25-23) last Monday night.
Sophomore Tamir Hershko spearheaded the Anteater offense with a team-high 17 kills and four digs. Junior outside hitter Kyle Russell was also in the double-digits in terms of kill, finishing second on the team with 13 and adding one service ace and two digs. Second-year Michael Saeta had a game high 36 set assists while fourth-year libero Michael Brinkley posted five digs.
“I think we underperformed,” said head coach David Kniffin. “It’s a new line up we got on the court, due to a couple of injuries that we have, but regardless of the seven guys that we put out there, my expectations were higher for the team.”
After trading points early on in the first set, Lewis University pulled ahead from a 7-7 tie with by scoring four consecutive points to take a 11-7 lead, eliciting a time-out from the Anteaters. Following the break, the two teams began trading points once again, with the Flyers holding onto their four-point lead. Trailing 12-16, UCI erased the deficit by mounting a 6-2 run, which was emphatically capped off with a service ace from Russell to even the score at 18-18. However, that was as close the Anteaters would get to taking the lead as the Flyers responded in turn with a 5-1 run to pull away and take a commanding 23-19 lead and force another time-out from the home team. UC Irvine came out of the break playing with a renewed sense of urgency, but Lewis managed to hold off the rally to take the first set 25-22.
With momentum on their side, Lewis immediately seized control of the second set with a 6-2 lead, and never relinquished control of the set for the remainder of the game. Looking to bounce back, UCI rallied to tie the score at 7-7 off a kill by Hershko, but once again the Flyers would distance themselves from the Anteaters whenever they threatened to regain the lead.
Coming out of a time-out and trailing 11-16, UCI seemed to regain some confidence after a double block by Andrew Benz and Russell. Slowly but surely, the Anteaters pulled themselves back into the game, with a service ace by Russell putting UCI within two points at 17-19. However, that was as close as the Anteaters would come for the remainder of the set. An inopportune service error would give the Flyers match point and senior Geof Powell would connect with a kill to clinch the second set for Lewis.
Down 0-2, the Anteaters seemed to play with a renewed sense of urgency in the third. The insertion of middle blocker Marty Ross into the lineup seemed to inject some much needed energy into the team and immediately paid dividends as Ross teamed with Hershko for a double denial at 5-3. A kill by sophomore Dillon Hoffman put UCI ahead 8-5, but the Anteaters struggled to widen the lead, even committing a rare double contact error at 10-9. Lewis University would tie the score at 12-12 off an Irvine attack error, but would not regain the lead until the latter points of the set.
Leading 20-19, the Anteaters were on the cusp of forcing a fourth set, but three consecutive errors and a kill by Powell quickly turned the tables and gave Lewis a 23-20 lead. After taking their final timeout of the match, Irvine fought desperately to stay alive, and came within 23-24 after a block by Ross and Saeta. Though Irvine fended off two match points, the third would be the charm for Lewis as a triple block completed the sweep by the Flyers.
“I think it took us too long to get going,” said coach Kniffin. “Lewis came in really understanding what their line up would be, understanding the opportunity to come out here and beat a West Coast team. We just need to come out of the games a little faster.”
Following their loss to Lewis, the Anteaters traveled to Hawai’i to participate in the 21st Outrigger Resorts Invitational from Jan. 8 to Jan. 11 at the Stan Sheriff Center, where the team hopes to return to its winning ways.
“As cliche as it sounds, it’s going to start with just competing better. The volleyball for us will get there, we’re still pretty young in a couple of key positions, so I expect us to stabilize everytime,” Kniffin said.

UCI 3 Penn State 2

No. 8 UC Irvine edged out No. 3 Penn State (25-17, 25-18, 18-25, 22-25, 15-7) in the first match of the Outrigger Invitational at the Stan Sheriff Center last Thursday.
Hershko and Zack La Cavera led the Anteaters with 17 kills apiece. Hershko also had five service aces to set a new career-high, while La Cavera matched his own career high of seven block assists for the night. Junior middle blocker Jason Agopian led the defensive effort with eight block assists while Saeta and Brinkley added seven digs each.
UC Irvine held the advantage in kills against the Nittany Lions at 57-39 and shot at a .352 clip while Penn State was just .140 for the night.

UCI 3 Ohio State 0

Playing in the second day of the Outrigger Resorts Invitational, No. 8 UC Irvine defeated No. 14 Ohio State in straight sets 3-0 (26-24, 25-21, 25-22) on Friday, Jan. 9.
Hershko, La Cavera and Russel spearheaded the Anteater offense, contributing 11, nine and eight kills respectively. Saeta’s presence was felt throughout the night, as the sophomore setter had 32 set assists, four blocks, one ace and five digs, another team-high.
UC Irvine, eight and a half blocks to the Buckeye’s two, seemed to the be difference maker as both teams sported a similar hitting percentage with the Anteaters hitting for .289 and Ohio State .250.

UC Irvine 3 Hawai’i 0

In the championship match of the Outrigger Resorts Invitational, No. 8 UC Irvine swept No. 10 Hawai’i 27-25, 25-21 and 25-19 to claim the title last Sunday night at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Opposite Hershko had a match-high 17 kills, while Russell and La Cavera contributed 11 and 10 kills respectively.
Hershko was voted Most Outstanding Player for his performance throughout the tournament. Alongside Hershko, La Cavera and Saeta were selected as part of the all-tournament team.
Men’s volleyball team will return home this Wednesday to host George Mason University at the Bren Events Center. The visiting Patriots are currently 0-2, losing two straight matches against No. 1 Pepperdine.