It seemed only fitting that for the UCI men’s volleyball team’s senior night, it was the team’s most veteran player, fifth-year outside hitter Travis Woloson, who led the Anteaters to a 3-0 sweep over UCSD at the Bren Events Center last Saturday night.
“I was just thinking, leave it all out here,” said Woloson, who paced the Anteaters with 12 kills and two service aces. “You’re not going to get many more chances, so take advantage of the ones you have and enjoy it while it lasts, you know?”
With the win, UCI finishes the regular season with a record of 19-3 and lay claim to the title of Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Conference Champions. Additionally, the Anteaters, who hold an overall record of 25-4, have clinched home-court advantage and the No. 1 seed for the MPSF Championship, where the winner earns a bid to the NCAA Championships held May 7 and 9 at the Maples Pavillion in Stanford.
Senior Zack La Cavera added 11 kills and posted three total blocks, followed by sophomore outside hitter Tamir Herhsko who had nine kills, two service aces and eight digs. Outside hitter Thomas Hodges had a strong showing off the bench, hitting .667 with four kills on six attempts and no errors. Senior setter Roberto Frazzoni recorded 11 assists in two sets, while sophomore setter Michael Saeta posted 26 assists and an ace.
Senior All-American libero Michael Brinkley had a match high 14 digs, with his usual crowd-pleasing acrobatics on full display in the regular season finale.
Following the match, Frazzoni, La Cavera, Woloson and Brinkley were all honored and treated to a rousing ovation from the audience at hand.
“Usually I’m not really one to like the spotlight on me, but it was really special seeing the support and just all the love that I feel like our team gets,” said La Cavera. “I feel like we never can give too much gratitude to those guys, and to the fans and our family.”
As a result of the loss, UCSD drops to 2-26 overall and 0-22 in the MPSF. The Tritons were led by sophomore outside hitter Ian Colbert and freshman Tanner Syftestad who boasted eight kills each. Though UC Irvine shot .365 to UCSD’s .165, the Tritons dominated the Anteaters at the net, boasting 8.5 blocks to the Anteater’s four.
Junior middle blocker Jason Agopian propelled UCI to a quick 7-2 lead with two kills and a block early on in the first set. UCSD nearly closed the gap at 12-10 with a triple block and Anteater service error, but a kill and solo block by La Cavera put the Anteaters up 14-10. Woloson later exploded with the hot hand, pounding away three consecutive kills to extend the lead to 18-11. A service ace by Saeta and a kill by La Cavera ended the first set 25-17.
In the second set, the Tritons demonstrated a more focused attack, registering a .267 hitting percentage after posting .143 in the first. UCSD led 14-13 until a kill by Woloson and Triton attack error gave UCI the lead for a good. A pair of kills by Hodge cracked open a 17-14 lead for the Anteaters, whom took the set 25-21 off an attack error.
Looking to close out the Tritons, UCI jumped out to a commanding 12-3 lead behind the serving of Herhsko and Agopian. An ace by Woloson and kill by Hodges ended the set and match 25-15. Spearheading the Anteater attack was Woloson, who had six of his 12 kills. Meanwhile, UCSD’s improved offense was stifled to a dismal .017.
With home-court advantage in tow, the Anteaters are primed to claim the program’s fifth national championship in eight seasons beginning with next Saturday’s MPSF quarterfinal match against eighth-seeded UCLA.
However, though the UCI will be able to avoid traveling to Hawai’i and BYU, which regularly attract crowds of over 3,300 people, the benefit of playing at home may not be as advantageous as it seems.
“It’s great to have the home-court advantage, but one thing is you’re still in school and you’re still going to have to worry about that,” said La Cavera. “Whereas if you go somewhere else to play, you’d (get to be able to) really just focus in on volleyball.”
It is worth noting that of the Anteater’s four losses this season, three of them have come at home, with the sole loss on the road coming against a third-ranked Pepperdine team that went on to win 20 straight at home.
According to La Cavera, a large portion of the success of the Anteater’s post-season run is contingent on the ability of the players to zone out external factors on the court.
“When we’re here (on) the court, (we need) to zone out all the unimportant (factors) and and (realize), it can’t really affect (us) and it won’t affect (us) on the court,” said La Cavera.
Amongst UC Irvine’s four departing seniors, the trio of Brinkley, La Cavera and Woloson understand what it takes to ascend to the top of the NCAA, having partook in the program’s back-to-back championship campaigns from 2012-2013.
“Right now, going into playoffs, we’ve been keeping the practices short but intense,” said Woloson. “(We need to) keep competing and (building) off of it, and have the mindset that we want to play everyone, (that) we’re not afraid to play anyone. We want challenges and that’s how we’re gonna get better and progress to the NCAA’s.”