Long before the season started, Coach David Kniffin has made it no secret that he expects greatness out of senior opposite Zack La Cavera.
La Cavera, who out of modesty and respect, has been reluctant to assume the mantle of the alpha male on the UCI men’s volleyball team, is gradually beginning to take his role as the team’s go-to player to heart.
This was evident as his two-match high of 35 kills led the Anteaters in back to back victories over BYU on their home court, a feat that had not been accomplished since 2012.
It was further evident last Wednesday night, when La Cavera’s match-high 14 kills helped the fifth-ranked Anteaters power through to a clean sweep over thirteenth-ranked Cal State Northridge in the Bren Events Center.
With only four conference matches to go before the MPSF Tournament, La Cavera is ready to shoulder the responsibilities of leading the team to a fifth national championship.
“When you think about it, in the whole scheme of things, [Kniffin] knows what he can expect from me, he knows I can play a lot better than I have. That’s when I got to realize I got to be able to think that about myself and put that into practice” said La Cavera.
Coach Kniffin, who led the program to a national championship in his first year as head coach in 2013, would not have said anything if he didn’t believe La Cavera was up to the task.
“If anybody can handle the pressure it’s Zack, he always rises up to the big moment.” said Coach Kniffin.
That big moment will present itself in the weeks to come when postseason play begins. However, as demonstrated with the team’s quick dismantling of the visiting Matadors, the burden of carrying the team does not solely rest upon the shoulders of La Cavera.
“It’s not like I have to lift other players. It’s not like only I can play really good one match only and another person can play really good one match,” said La Cavera. “[We] realize that sometimes all of us can come together and all have a really good match together.”
In the past three games, the UCI men’s volleyball team has shown its depth and versatility with a new starting line-up and strong contributions from off the bench.
Behind La Cavera’s 14 kills, sophomore outside Tamir Hershko put away nine kills with a .471 hitting percentage with four digs and shared a team high three block assists in the team’s 25-16, 25-17, 26-24 sweep over CSUN Wednesday.
Senior outside Travis Woloson added eight kills and six digs, while sophomore outside Thomas Hodges added two kills off the bench.
Junior middle blocker Jason Agopian posted seven kills on .455 hitting with three block assists as well as two service aces.
Senior setter Roberto Frazzoni, in his second start of the year, had a match high 31 assists and seven digs while senior libero Michael Brinkley had a match high 13 digs.
In the first set, UC Irvine shot for .421 (10-2-19) while holding CSUN to .125 (9-6-24). Both teams found themselves plagued by service errors, with the Anteaters committing five and the Matadors six. Both teams traded points until a 8-1 run put UCI up 16-9, where they clinched the set off a CSUN service error.
UC Irvine limited their service errors to just two in the second set, while CSUN’s woes from the service line continued with five. Kills by Agopian, Woloson, La Cavera and a CSUN attack error pulled the Anteaters away from the Matadors 20-15. A solo stuff by La Cavera gave UCI match point at 24-16, with the teams trading service errors to end the set 25-17.
It was a much closer affair in the third set, as CSUN shot for .452 to UCI’s .455. Though the teams traded points throughout, the Anteaters led for the most part, until a kill by sophomore outside Bradley Sakaida gave the Matadors match point at 24-23. A kill by Hershko kept the Anteaters a live, and UCI would close out the sweep with a CSUN attack error and double stuff by Hershko and Agopian.
UC Irvine will return to action Friday, when they host No. 10 LBSU in another installment of the Black and Blue Rivalry. They will travel to UCLA and UCSB, before ultimately returning home to host UCSD before beginning the MPSF Tournament.
With the regular season quickly coming to an end, Coach Kniffin can rest assured that his team is fully aware of what’s at stake for the program.
“I think we’re at that point in the season where we’re pretty business minded,” said Coach Kniffin. “We understand the grind, the day-to-day, the nervous jitters of the early season are out, we understand what it means to come in to the gym and do our job everyday.”