As head coach David Kniffin put it, the one thing the UCI men’s volleyball team has been is consistently inconsistent.
During the No. 13 Anteater’s (4-11, 3-10 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) straight-set loss at the Bren Event Center to No. 3 Stanford (14-2, 12-2) Friday night, the team struggled with yet another erratic performance.
In the first two sets, UCI fell by scores of 25-16, posting subpar hitting percentages of .000 and .032 respectively. Come game three, it appeared that the Anteaters had regained their form when they stormed out to a seemingly insurmountable 16-7 lead in the third (UCI hit for .279 in the third). However, as they had throughout the season, the team was unable to maintain their level of play, and soon conceded the set 27-25.
While Kniffin noted that the team’s passing was proficient, it was the team’s attacking and serving that was lacking throughout the evening.
Collectively, the Cardinal hit for .275, more than double the Anteater’s abysmal .137. Stanford also dominated UCI from the service line with seven aces to three, but the home team was harmed more by their 18 service errors. For comparison, the visiting Cardinal only logged eight errors from the service line.
“I think, we were certainly passing the ball well enough tonight to win, [so] then it becomes a question of can we score from the service line, and it appeared that we could not, and could we put up good clean hittable balls for our guys, and that was a challenge as well,” said Kniffin. “When you have trouble siding out despite good passing and can’t put points on the board from the service line, it makes it challenging to hit a volleyball.”
UCI was led by senior Marty Ross, who garnered a match-high 12.5 points on nine kills (on .353 hitting) and five blocks (two solo, three assists). Senior outside hitter Kyle Russell also chipped in nine kills, but did while swinging for an inefficient .088.
Redshirt sophomore middle blocker Kevin Rakestraw rivaled Ross’s performance on the Cardinal’s end, as the Newport Beach native had eight kills (.385 hitting) and five blocks (all assists). Outside hitter Kabriel Vega and middle blocker Conrad Kaminski were not far behind with seven and six kills respectively.
In sets one and two, the Anteaters were undone by 24 errors (14 attacking and 10 service).
During the third set, UCI’s fortunes began to change when freshman setter Dante Chakravorti was substituted for junior Michael Saeta, as the Illinois native was able to dish out three assists each outside hitters David Parker and Tucker Pikula, both of whom stand at a mere 6’1.
“With Dante, with the speed of the offense, the precision and the diversity of having Dante on the court, I think gives smaller hitters an advantage,” said Kniffin. “We lose a little bit maybe from the service line, we lose a little height blocking, but honestly we weren’t scoring points with our bigger blockers.”
While a fourth set seemed inevitable with UCI holding a 16-7 lead, their fortunes soon changed when the Cardinal went on a 10-2 run to trim to deficit to one. The Anteaters had the chance to close out the game at 24-22, but an untimely service error by Saeta and a Cardinal block brought the game back to deuce, after which the visitors went on to complete their improbable comeback.
The Anteaters return to the Bren Events Center Saturday night where they will host No. 10 Pepperdine.