Although the Anteaters demonstrated an improved effort, the UCI men’s volleyball team still suffered its second consecutive sweep to No. 3 BYU by scores of 26-24, 28-26, and 25-15 at the Bren Events Center on Homecoming Day.
While the result was the same from the night before, the ‘Eaters were noticeably more competitive with the Cougars this time around. The match featured a total of 25 tie scores and 10 lead changes, up from Friday’s total of 16 tie scores and 6 lead changes.
“We seemed more confident in our game today, we just made a lot of volleyball mistakes that can’t be made. We imploded in our passing game against a team that does not serve tough,” said head coach David Kniffin. “The game plan against a UC Irvine right now would be serve it in because they’ll make a mistake. We demonstrated that tonight, we didn’t get let off that hook, they served it at a very high percentage.”
Out of 78 serves, the Cougars only committed five errors to finish with an efficient .936 hitting percentage. Meanwhile, the ‘Eaters had 11 faults on 66 serves to finish with a .833 clip. BYU outhit UCI .400 to .284, and posted 10.5 blocks to the Anteater’s 4.
Senior outside hitter Kyle Russell led the ‘Eaters with 13 kills while hitting for a .179 clip to go along one service ace, three digs, and one block. Junior opposite Tamir Hershko was not far behind with 11 kills on .333 hitting with five digs and two blocks. Freshman setter Dante Chakravorti had a match-high 36 assists while junior libero Dillon Hoffman led all players with 10 digs
Senior middle block Jason Agopian- who did not see action in UCI’s first contest against BYU- had eight kills on 11 swings and one error to finish with .636 hitting, and also added a service ace and four blocks.
With the loss, the No. 9 Anteaters have now lost their last four matches, and drop to 2-6 on the season and 1-5 in MPSF play. While the Anteaters are still struggling for answers, the expectations for the team coming into the season remains the same: winning an NCAA championship.
“This is very unique territory for Irvine, we haven’t experienced years like this since 2005, 2008, 2010, 2011,” said head coach David Kniffin. “Although that’s relative frequency, that feels like the anomaly to have a season where we’re not in the top three or four right now. What we’re concerned about is conference standings, and all we really need to do is get into that [top 8] playoff bracket, anything’s possible. We have to win the conference tournament anyway.”
In the first set, UCI once again struggled from the service line, committing five service errors to fall behind 6-10 early on. BYU soon led 16-9 but UCI responded with a 6-2 run to trim the deficit at 15-18. Both teams would trade points from then on, but a pair of kills put the ‘Eaters within striking distance at 21-22. UCI would commit a service error on the next possession, but back-to-back errors by BYU knotted the game at 23 all. While the ‘Eaters fended off one match-point after an attack-error to bring it to 24-24, a pair of BYU kills closed the frame 26-24.
In the second set, Agopian posted two kills, a double-block, and a service ace in the span of five-points to propel the Anteaters to a 15-13 lead. UCI proceeded to build upon their lead, using three kills and two service aces to a carve out a four-point lead at 20-16, but the Cougars responded with a 5-1 run to even the game at 21 all. Russell topped of a pair of kills with a service to give the ‘Eaters match-point, but a sophomore opposite Ben Patch brought the game back to deuce. A BYU double-block gave the Cougars match-point which they would clinch off a service ace.
BYU jumped out to a 13-8 lead in the third, but a Cougar service error and kills by Russell and Agopian cut the deficit to two at 13-11. That was as close as UCI would come however, as a 7-1 run gave BYU a commanding 20-12 lead. UCI scored only two more points before a BYU kill off the block handed UCI their second straight sweep of the weekend.
The No. 9 Anteaters will look to snap their losing streak this week when they host Cal Baptist and USC at the Bren Events Center. For the team to do that however, it must first start with learning to trust in each other out on the court.
“I think there’s a little bit of trying to overplay our zones, we saw some clean aces on float serves tonight, and what that typically means is that guys are trying to cover up other guy’s seams and taking too much responsibility,” said Kniffin, “The court is- you can only cover so much court, no matter how good you are. So taking two steps one way means you’re two steps slower the other way. If we don’t trust that each guy is going to take care of his responsibility, we leave ourselves vulnerable.”