Men’s Volleyball Splits with Hawai’i in MPSF Action
Capping off a tough January schedule that consisted of 12 matches in 26 days against a familiar and highly motivated Hawai’i team that had lost twice to UCI earlier in the season, UC Irvine men’s volleyball fell to the Rainbow Warriors in four sets, 22-25, 19-25, 26-24 and 24-26 last Friday at the Bren Events Center.
Two nights prior at the Bren, the Anteaters swept the Rainbow Warriors in straight sets, 25-16, 25-22 and 25-21. Sophomore middle Andrew Benz had a career night, tallying a match high of seven blocks while hitting six kills on six attempts for a perfect .1000 hitting percentage.
“Our January schedule has been rigorous. It’s been tough, but it’s that way by design,” said Benz. “This is our toughest month, (putting) us in a good spot for the end of the year and I think we’ve been pretty successful.”
With the loss, No. 4 UC Irvine drops to an overall record of 9-3 and 4-2 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation while No. 6 Hawai’i improves to 6-2 and 3-1.
Junior middle blocker Jason Agopian boasted a career high of 12 kills while hitting at a .625 clip. Senior outside hitter Zack La Cavera led Anteater attack with 15 kills and five block assists, while sophomore opposite Tamir Hershko followed with 13 kills and nine digs.
Once again, the Anteaters struggled on serve, committing a costly 18 service errors to the Rainbow Warrior’s 11.
After closely exchanging points with Hawai’i in the first set, UC Irvine looked to be in control of the set after taking a three point lead at 16-13 off of two consecutive kills by La Cavera. The Anteaters, however, would commit six service errors over the next 18 points to drop the first set 22-25.
Still riding the wave of momentum from the first set, Hawai’i raced out to a 7-1 lead in the second. Led by Agopian, who finished the set with seven kills, the Anteaters came close to erasing the deficit, coming within one at 14-15 with a kill by La Cavera. However, that was as close as UCI would come in the second set, as Hawai’i would close the Anteaters out with a 9-5 run to take a commanding 2-0 set lead.
Both teams struggled offensively in the third set, hitting below .200 each. Down 16-20 in the third, the Anteaters trimmed the lead to 19-21 with a double block by Agopian and Hershko. At 20-22, UCI seemed to have brought themselves within one before a late referee whistle penalized the Anteaters for a net violation, eliciting a timeout from UCI’s head coach, David Kniffin, to calm his players down. Following the timeout, junior outside Kyle Russell would carry the team on his back, firing off two consecutive kills and posting a block alongside Benz to tie the game and prompt a Hawai’i time-out. A kill by sophomore middle Zach Radner gave the Rainbow Warriors match point at 23-24, but once again the duo of Benz and Russell would pull through for the ‘Eaters at the net with another denial. UC Irvine would capitalize with a kill from Hershko and an attack error from Hawai’i to complete the comeback and force a fourth set.
“(I) just reminded them that these are the moments that we should be seeking out. This is why we play competitive sports, we invite in the impossible moments to test ourselves and see how we’re going to react to it,” said Coach Kniffin, commenting on what he said to his team during the timeout.
In the fourth set, the Anteaters led 16-12, but a Hawai’i triple block and a series of attack errors would tie the game 18-18. Hawai’i had match point at 24-23, but a kill by Agopian bought the Anteaters a second life to bring the Bren to its feet. However, UC Irvine would finish the set with a service and attack error fall to the Rainbow Warriors for the first time this season.
“I think we had some moments where we showed some fatigue, but what I love about those moments is that we had a chance to give a real gut check. We have definitely played better nights than tonight,” Coach Kniffin said.
Following a grueling January schedule, the Anteaters have a week to rest and analyze their performance in the past month before traveling to La Jolla on Saturday, Feb. 7 to square off against the UC San Diego Tritons.
“What we’re (asking) is, what can we learn from having 12 matches in January?” said Coach Kniffin. “We have played more matches than any team in the country and we played 12 matches in 26 days, so I think we have more game information and practice information. What we’d like to see is how we look.”