Over the course of the season, head coach David Kniffin has reminded his team of their intent on claiming a program fifth national championship, that it wouldn’t be the result of a regular season game that would come to define them, but rather their performance in the postseason.
Considering, however, that the UC Irvine men’s volleyball registered the most wins of any team in the nation, the team simply only needed to stick by what had defined them all season long with the arrival of the postseason:
Running one of the nation’s most prolific offenses in a 3-0 (25-17, 25-18-, 25-15) dismantling of eighth-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals of the MPSF Tournament.
“The nice thing about battling day in and day out and finishing a regular season at number one is nothing has to change going into playoffs,” said Kniffin. “We’ve earned that right to come in here and know we can compete at that level because we’ve demonstrated (it) all year long.”
UC Irvine had one of its strongest offensive showings all season long, committing only three attack errors, a new season low, on 79 attempts to boast a blistering .481 attack percentage to the Bruin’s .202 percent. The Anteaters also demonstrated their superiority at the net and outblocked the Bruins, 8-1.
MPSF Player of the Year Zack La Cavera led the Anteaters with 13 kills on .500 hitting, committing just one error in 24 swings. The senior opposite also recorded one ace, seven digs and three block assists.
Sophomore outside hitter and MPSF First Team selection Tamir Hershko had the most efficient showing for the evening, hitting for .556 on 18 swings with 10 kills and no errors.
“I think we did really good from the service line, and did a really good job from the passing and from the receiving line,” said Hershko. “We dug a lot of balls, and Zack was playing great.”
Fellow outside hitter, fifth-year senior Travis Woloson hit for .471, adding nine kills on 17 swings and just one error. Middle blockers Jason Agopian and Andrew Benz both hit for .500 without committing an error and combined for nine blocks.
Senior setter Roberto Frazzoni facilitated the high octane offense with 28 set assists while recording seven digs. All-American senior libero Michael Brinkley had a match-high 11 digs.
MPSF Freshman of the Year J.T. Hatch paced the Bruins with 13 kills, who added one ace and nine digs. Freshman outside hitter Jake Arnitz contributed six kills followed by junior middle blocker Trent Kersten with five kills.
With a hot home crowd, the Anteaters opened a 9-5 lead in the first set off of a double block by Frazzoni and Agopian and a kill by La Cavera. Two block assists and kills by La Cavera late helped spark a 7-0 run that gave the Anteaters a 24-15 cushion. UCLA managed to stave off two match points before a kill by La Cavera ended the first set.
UCLA held a 12-10 lead before the Anteaters rallied off five straight to retake the lead at 15-12, aided by two miscues by the Bruins. UC Irvine never trailed again, and a solo stuff by Agopian ended the set 25-18 to put the Anteaters up 2-0.
In the third set the Anteaters wasted no time in jumping out to a 9-3 lead. From there, the lead only widened, and a kill by Woloson clinched the set 25-15 and the match for UCI.
Although UCI defeated UCLA twice this season, winning 3-0 at home and 3-1 at Pauley Pavillion, the Anteaters knew that a win wasn’t a given, especially with former UCI head coach John Speraw at the helm of the Bruins.
“We were not taking them lightly one bit, (they’re) very well coached, (a) very good team,” said Woloson. “They (have) a lot of top recruits, so we had to know we couldn’t let up at all, and keep making statements.”
With the win, UCI has now won eight straight and improves to 26-4 for the season, while UCLA finishes its season 13-14. Furthermore, the Anteaters now host the MPSF semifinals next Thursday and the finals next Friday at the Bren Events Center.
UCI, ranked second nationally, will face fourth-seeded USC at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday. The Anteaters have a split record against the Trojans this year, falling 2-3 (30-28, 17-25, 25-21, 23-25, 13-15) at home and winning 3-2 (20-25, 18-25, 25-19, 25-17, 15-13) at the Glen Center.