Since the start of the season, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team has had their sights set on bringing home a fifth national championship. No journey is perfect, but No. 4 UCI (24-4, 18-3 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) managed to avoid an unwelcome bump on the road by defeating No. 12 UCLA 3-1 (25-19, 21-25, 25-21, 25-20) at the Pauley Pavillion last Friday night.
An upset loss would surely have knocked the Anteaters a few rankings down in the national standings. But to a team that has shown its ability to compete with the country’s best, this may have proven to be inconsequential in the larger scheme of things.
“What’s interesting about this match for us is that we (had) to simultaneously be in the moment and also understand that the result of this match doesn’t define us as a team, and that it doesn’t affect our ultimate outcome or our ultimate goal this year,” Kniffin said.
Senior opposite Zack La Cavera paced the Anteaters with 20 kills while hitting for .447 and added eight digs and three aces. Outside hitters senior Travis Woloson and sophomore Tamir Hershko supplemented the offense with 13 and 12 kills respectively. Middle blockers Andrew Benz and Jason Agopian contributed with six kills each, while senior setter Robertoni Frazzoni led UCI to a .429 hitting percentage off of 50 set assists and 10 digs.
In the first set, the Bruins outhit the Anteaters .440-.320, but proved to be their own worst enemy, committing eight service errors. On the other hand, UCI had a stellar service game, hitting four aces, three by La Cavera and one from Frazzoni.
UCLA managed to limit their service errors to just four in the second set, while maintaining a balanced attack with a respectable .367 hitting percentage.
The Anteaters were plagued by five service errors and could not find an answer for the UCLA middle blockers who combined for six block attempts and one solo block to limit UCI to .258 hitting in the second set.
“In the second set, we just let up a little bit too much. We didn’t focus in like we should and play point-to-point. So I think that hurt us, I think we’re real mindful after that to not let up, focus on this point, don’t hit the sleep button, just keep pushing, so I think that was a little difference for us just to keep the energy up,” said Woloson.
UCI finally found its offensive groove in the third set, finishing with a .552 (17-1-29) hitting percentage. The Anteaters continued to improve in the fourth set, as Frazzoni led the team to an astounding .593 hitting (17-1-27) despite committing a match-high 8 service errors in one single set.
With two weeks to go, the Anteaters will have some downtime to rest and gather themselves before beginning their postseason play.
“Right now, our focus is [to] stay fresh, healthy and keep just growing as a team in areas we need to grow, and that’s just kinda playing the points one at time mentality we’ve been talking about all year and sticking to the process,” said Woloson.
The Anteaters return to the Bren next Saturday, April 18 to host UC San Diego on Senior Night. La Cavera, Woloson, Frazzoni and Brinkley will all be honored at the match’s conclusion.
Following a tumultuous schedule, the Anteaters will focus on resting themselves after a rigorous and brutal season.
“Now we hope to get our legs back under us, and show a real strong fresh team going into the playoff stretch,” said Kniffin