UCI men’s volleyball team kicked off their 2016 campaign by making short work of No. 14 George Mason (25-21, 25-16, 25-18) at the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Showcase in BYU late Friday afternoon.
The No. 2 Anteaters were led by junior opposite Tamir Hershko, who paced the team in kills (11) and digs (five). Making his first collegiate start, freshman Karl Apfelbach had a modest but well-rounded showing, logging seven kills on .062 hitting, four digs, and three block assists.
Sophomore outside hitter Reid Dominquez also saw action in the starting slot, and totaled five kills, one service ace, and three digs. Junior setter Michael Saeta made his presence felt in numerous portions of the game, logging 30 assists, four kills on .667 hitting, four service aces and two block assists.
Senior outside hitter Kyle Russell, who replaced Dominquez the third set, finished with a perfect hitting percentage, recording five kills on five attempts and no errors.
While the Anteaters surged to a comfortable 10-4 lead early on in the first set, the team struggled to close out the Patriots. After back-to-back attack errors by George Mason, UCI held eight match-points at 24-17. A kill by junior outside hitter Christian Malias and three consecutive UCI attack errors cut the deficit to 24-21, prompting a time-out from the ‘Eaters. Following the time-out, Hershko recorded his seventh kill of the set to close out the frame.
UCI was down early in the second, but soon overtook the lead off of kills by Hershko and Dominquez at 7-6. The Anteaters broke open the set at 14-10 lead off a double-block and Patriot attack error, and built upon that lead throughout the rest of the set. At 20-16, UCI rallied off five straight points to take the set, with Saeta adding three points (one kill and two service aces) and George Mason committing two errors in the final two set points.
In the tightest game of the match (eight ties and three lead changes), both teams put forth their best offensive showing in the third, with UCI hitting .474 and George Mason hitting for an even .500. The Patriots once again held an early lead at 7-5, but ‘Eaters retook the lead after staging a 3-0 run that saw two George Mason errors (one serving and one attack) and a service ace by Dominquez. Although the ‘Eaters held the lead from there on out, the Patriots were only two to three points behind the team throughout. After a Hershko kill put UCI up 18-15, Saeta landed two consecutive service aces to give the ‘Eaters a five-point lead. The Patriots managed to put together three more points before UCI clinched the match off an attack error and Saeta kill.
The Anteaters will cap off the AVCA Showcase when they return to the Smith Fieldhouse tomorrow for a matchup against the defending NCAA Champions Loyola Chicago. Tomorrow’s game will be a shot at redemption for the Anteaters, as the Ramblers ended their postseason run in the NCAA semifinals with an unceremonious sweep last year.