Wednesday, January 20, 2021
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Men’s Volleyball Struggle to Execute Against Waves

Senior Outside Hitter Kyle Russell had a career-high 24 kills and seven blocks against Pepperdine.

For UC Irvine men’s volleyball team, one painful truth has been apparent throughout their tumultuous season thus far: The talent is there, but the execution isn’t.

And on a night where UCI was led by a career-high 24 kills by senior outside hitter Kyle Russell, the No. 13 Anteaters (4-12, 3-11 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) that was never more apparent as the home team dropped a five-set loss (25-21, 23-25, 25-15, 18-25, 10-15) to No. 10 Pepperdine (7-5, 6-5) at the Bren Events Center.

“”It’s like every other game, the mentality is always there for us,” said sophomore outside hitter Tucker Pikula. “It’s just the execution is the problem sometimes, [it] just felt sloppy.”

Behind Russell’s tremendous performance, seniors All-American Jason Agopian tallied 10 kills on .333 hitting and seven blocks, while Marty Ross was errorless on 11 swings with six kills and a match-high eight blocks.

Carrying the workload for the Waves were a trio of players whom each logged double-digit kills on the evening, namely David Wieczorek (18), Matt Tarantino (17) and Colby Harriman (13).

After a sluggish start during Friday’s losing effort to Stanford, the Anteaters came out firing on all cylinders offensively, averaging a .389 hitting percentage in the first three sets. Even during the second set, where the team conceded 25-23 after leading 23-22, UCI was still able to out-hit the visitors by a narrow margin of .355-.353.

The team would quickly rebound as the Anteaters cruised to a 25-15 win in a set where they limited the Waves to a mere five kills on -.158 hitting in the third set with 10.5 total team blocks. However, the performance of the Anteaters drastically tapered off after securing a 2-1 lead in the match.

In the fourth set, the Waves swung for a blistering .625 percentage, while the Anteaters regressed to a dismal .125, after recording hitting percentages of .423, .355, and .389 in the first three sets respectively.

“The idea that we had played so well in set 3, I think there was a little bit of snap-back from that,” said head coach David Kniffin. “I think we played really well, but not anything beyond what we should do all the time, to have that much success can kind of catch us off-guard I guess.”

UCI’s hitting percentage only continued to diminish, as they finished the fifth set with a flat .000 on six swings and six errors out of twenty attempts. Both teams were even at 9-9, but the Waves would end the fifth set on a 6-1 run to complete a season sweep of the Anteaters.

After their loss to Pepperdine, the Anteaters have now lost their last four matches and drop to a three-way tie with Cal Baptist and USC for ninth-place in the MPSF standings, meaning the Anteaters are currently out of contention for the MPSF Tournament.

While the Anteaters’ postseason hopes are still alive, the team will only have eight remaining games in the regular season to solidify their bid for the postseason.

“There’s too many variables still to calculate exactly what it’s going to take, but we have enough matches where we can win our way in,” said Kniffin.