In a rematch of last year’s NCAA men’s volleyball semifinal match, the No. 2 Anteaters fell short of defeating No. 3 Loyola Chicago at the AVCA Showcase hosted by Brigham Young University in the Smith Fieldhouse Saturday night.
After dropping the first two sets (25-21, 25-19), the men’s volleyball team rallied to win the next two (22-25, 26-28) before falling 15-9 in the final set.
The ‘Eaters (1-1) were led by junior opposite Tamir Hershko’s double-double of 15 kills and 13 digs. Junior middle blocker Jason Agopian and senior outside hitter Kyle Russell had 10 kills apiece, while freshman opposite Karl Apfelbach added six of his own.
Junior setter Michael Saeta notched 29 set assists, three digs, and three total blocks, and freshman libero David Parker paced the team with eight digs.
UCI only posted a .171 hitting percentage to Loyola’s .316, and were also out-blocked by the Rambler’s 13.5 to 6.
The defending NCAA champions were led by sophomore opposite Ricky Gevis’s 15 kills, with senior outside hitter Trevor Novotny and sophomore middle-blocker Jeff Jendryk not far behind with 14 and 12 kills respectively.
The Anteaters struggled offensively in the first set, hitting .147 to the Rambler’s .419. Loyola-Chicago led for the majority of the set, but tied the set at 15-15 on kills by sophomore outside hitter Reid Domniquez and Herhsko. UCI would get no closer however, as the LU rallied off an 8-3 run to take a commanding 23-18 lead. After a Jendryk kill set up match-point for the defending NCAA champions, the Anteaters managed to stave off three match-points before a Saeta service error closed the frame.
UCI fared no better in the second set, as Loyola-Chicago stormed out to a 11-6 lead and maintained that advantage throughout the rest of the set. The Anteaters were never able to establish their footing in the set, and dropped the set 19-25 after a Rambler double-block.
A reversal of fortunes took place in the third set, as the Anteaters burst forth with their best offensive showing of the match with a .455 clip while conversely, the Ramblers had their lowest clip at .143. Despite the differential in offensive output, the third set was tightly contested throughout, as it featured a total of 19 ties and seven lead changes. After a Jendryk kill tied the game at 21-21, Russell responded with a kill and service ace to put the Anteaters ahead for good at 23-21. The tandem of Hershko and junior middle blocker Andrew Benz teamed for a double-block to close the set 25-22 and force a fourth.
Loyola responded to their third-set loss by opening the fourth with a 3-0 run, which included one double-block and two Gevis kills. The Anteaters trailed the Ramblers throughout the majority of the match, and looked to be in dire straits after a Russell attack error gave Loyola a 22-18 lead. However, the Anteaters managed to catch a second life in the set as the Ramblers conceded four of the next five points off of two service errors and two attack errors to come within one at 22-23. Following the break, a Saeta kill tied the match, but a Jendryk kill gave the Ramblers match-point. A Loyola service error let the Anteaters off the hook to make it 24-24, and Russell capitalized with a service ace to give UCI match point at 25-24. While UCI saw Loyola fend off set-point on the ensuing play at 25-24 and the one after at 26-25, the third time proved to be the charm for the Anteaters as a Loyola attack-error forced a decisive fifth-set.
The Anteaters could not build upon their fourth-set victory and struggled immensely in the fifth-set, recording a -.364 hitting percentage. Of the nine points UCI won in the final set, four of them came from Rambler service errors. Much like they did in the fourth set, the Ramblers opened the fifth with a 3-0 lead, this time with a triple-block and double-block on the first and third points. Loyola blocked Russell on consecutive plays to command a 11-4 lead, and a Gevis kill closed out the match in favor of the national champions 15-9.
UCI will return to the Bren Events Center next weekend to host UCLA on Jan. 15 and UCSB on Jan. 16 to kick off conference play.