UCI 3, George Mason 0
Though the set scores may indicate otherwise, UC Irvine men’s volleyball had little trouble in defeating George Mason in straight sets (25-18, 25-22, 25-18) in an non-conference matchup at the Bren Events Center last Wednesday night.
After falling to Lewis at home last week in their season opener, the Anteaters have since toppled the likes of No. 2 Penn State, No. 14 Ohio State, and No. 10 Hawai’i en route to winning the 21st annual Outrigger Invitational in Honolulu.
According to head coach David Kniffin, the return of senior opposite Zack La Cavera has been a key factor in the Anteater’s recent success. Cavera, who led the Anteaters in kills and aces last season, was ranked 15th nationally in aces and led the Anteaters to victories over USC and Pepperdine.
“Having Zack back on the court, obviously is big for us, he’s a senior, he’s got these natural leadership instincts about him, he’s just so steady. Just having him on the court I think really stabilized us, mentally. In terms of what we can do offensively, I think we’ve got nine guys that are all pretty offensive that can be on the court at any given time and be good for us, that was the big change,” said Kniffin.
The Anteaters shot for .370 while keeping the Patriots down to just a meager .151. Defensively, UCI held the superior numbers as well, recording 27 digs to 17.
Senior opposite Zack La Cavera, made his presence felt with a match-high 14 kills alongside two aces and four total blocks. Sophomore outside hitter Tamir Hershko, whose performance in Hawai’i earned the Israeli native MPSF Player of the Week accolades, contributed 11 kills and a career-high nine digs.
Defensively senior libero Michael Brinkley led all players with 10 digs while additionally adding five assists. Sophomore setter Michael Saeta directed the Anteater offense, recording 40 assists in a performance that saw sophomore middle blocker Andrew Benz and junior outside Kyle Russell record seven kills each.
Sophomore outside Radoslav Popov led the Patriots with eight kills, while fellow outside Jack Wilson chipped in seven kills and three blocks.
After trading points early on, the Anteaters broke open a 7-7 tie with five consecutive points capped off with a kill by La Cavera. Upon taking the lead, UC Irvine would never trail again in the first, closing out the set 25-18 with a kill by Benz.
In the second set, a pair of aces of La Cavera helped the Anteaters overtake the Patriots at 9-5 after trailing from a 1-4 deficit early on. An attack error by UCI allowed George Mason to tie the game at 14-14, but the Anteaters would score five of the next six points to maintain the lead. A solo block by sophomore opposite Paco Valez put the Patriots within one point at 22-21, but the Anteaters hung on to clinch the set 25-22.
UC Irvine coasted through the third set, holding a comfortable 20-10 lead after an attack error by George Mason.
Down 14-24 at the end of the set, the Patriots did mount off an impressive string of four consecutive blocks to keep themselves alive before ultimately falling 25-18.
Despite earning their third sweep in a row, La Cavera felt that the team’s performance for the evening still left a little to be desired.
“Personally, I’m not very happy with my performance or the rest of the guy’s on the team. I think we’re still kind of riding on a little high from Hawai’i, I think we thought a little too highly of ourselves and we kinda carried that into this, and kind of cruised on cruise control in this match, luckily just beat this school, but think we need to be able to have a new mindset coming into new matches and kind of forgetting about that stuff in the past,” said La Cavera.
Following George Mason, the Anteaters traveled to No. 11 Long Beach State to kick off the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Conference.
Though they were picked in the MPSF preseason poll to finish fifth, the Anteaters are settling for nothing less than yet another NCAA championship.
“We definitely are chasing the national championship. We’re not coming in season just hoping we can finish big or maybe just make it in the tournament, we’re in this believing that we can win this tournament, or we’re gonna have a short run when we play.” said La Cavera.
UCI 3, LBSU 0
Playing in hostile territory, UC Irvine (defeated Black and Blue Rivals Long Beach State in straight sets, (25-21, 25-19, 25-23) at the Water Pyramid last Saturday night.
With the victory, the Anteaters (5-1, 1-0 MPSF) extend their winning streak to five and handed the Beach (4-1, 1-1 MPSF) their first lost of the season. The Beach was held to .152 hitting, while UCI was .349 for the evening.
Junior outside hitter Kyle Russell, paced the Anteaters with a season-high 13 kills, while adding two aces and three kills. Opposite Zack La Cavera had 10 kills and boasted a deadly .562 hitting percentage.
Michael Brinkley posted a match-high 12 digs that was also a season-high for the two-time first team All American.
Long Beach’s outside hitter, Cody Martin led the 49ers with eight kills and three aces. Fellow outside hitter Dan Glamack and middle blocker Taylor Gregory added five kills each.
The Anteaters next play against Cal Baptist on January 20 at the Bren Events Center and will host No. 8 USC on Friday. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.