In their matchups last season, No.3 BYU (7-2, 2-1) took apart the ‘Eaters, routing them in all three of their contests, the last of which had eliminated UCI from the MPSF Quarterfinal.
This past Friday, No.7 UC Irvine (7-3, 4-2) enacted their revenge in their sole MPSF meeting with the Cougars, enduring a match that carried over two hours of action within the hostile confines of the Smith Fieldhouse to upset their conference foes in five sets.
UCI’s victory spoiled the Cougars unblemished MPSF standing while snapping an eight game home winning streak.
In a non-conference rematch the following day, however, the Cougars mended their loss and redeemed their home floor with a three set sweep.
UCI’s 3-2 set victory (25-23, 28-26, 32-34, 21-25, 15-12) was hard earned as the team had to scrap through two hours and 42 minutes to bring the win home.
Senior Tamir Hershko emerged with a huge performance for the ‘Eaters as the veteran outside hitter topped all players with a season-high 19 kills while also picking up four blocks and three aces. His senior counterpart, Thomas Hodges dropped in 13 kills and three block assists while freshman middle blocker Scott Stadick registered nine kills and eight blocks.
With both teams finding success with their attacking—the ‘Eaters led with a slight 59-58 kill advantage—the game would be won with UCI’s defense, which was marked by the high 14 blocks that the team managed to turn away to go along with 34 digs.
At the service line, the ‘Eaters also managed to ring in nine aces despite committing 28 errors while the Cougars snagged five aces against 25 miscues.
Following a 3-0 run that gave BYU a 9-6 advantage, UCI powered out of a time-out to knot the game up at 11-11 on a kill from Hershko, a double block from Stadick and sophomore Karl Apfelbach, and an errant strike on BYU’s end of the net.
The set would go on to witness 11 more ties, as the team’s remained deadlocked at 22-22. Following a BYU misstep, Hershko slammed down two consecutive kills to draw the set to a close, 25-23.
In the set alone, UCI had out-hit BYU, .409 to .143.
The ‘Eaters run kept rolling into the second set, breaking out with a 5-2 lead, but the Cougars would bounce right back
Despite hitting an abysmal .083 clip on nine errors, they overcame the early deficit and went on to reach set point at 24-19.
Then, the ‘Eaters charged back with an emphatic effort.
With a kill from Stadick, the ‘Eaters scored four unanswered to tie the set up at 24-24. Stadick would come up big on the next few serves, deadlocking the score twice more before a kill from freshman Matthew Younggren gave the ‘Eaters their first two consecutive set advantage over BYU since 2015.
In the third set, BYU hit a match best .448 that would help them return the favor. Erasing a 21-19 UCI advantage and later escaping match point six times, the Cougars would go on to flip the switch and take the set, 34-32.
After BYU emerged with a 12-11 lead in the fourth set and went on to maintain the lead at 19-16 with two consecutive kills, the ‘Eaters came within one at 21-20 on three Cougar miscues. In spite of their late hiccups, BYU would clean up the rest of the set to force a fifth, 25-21.
With the match on the line, Hershko and Hodges registered three of the ‘Eaters’ eight kills to give UCI 8-4 cushion at the start of the final set. UCI shot themselves in the foot on few serves, snagging consecutive attacking errors to help BYU close the gap to one, 8-7.
As he had done all night, Hershko would get the ‘Eaters going again with a kill and on a BYU service error, UCI went back up 10-7, a lead that BYU would not be able to recover from as junior Reed Dominguez stamped home the match point, 15-12.
In a non-conference rematch the next day, BYU’s senior outside hitter Jake Langlois and junior opposite Ben Patch combined for 24 kills, 12 a piece, to rout the ‘Eaters in three sets. Langlois also finished with a team-best four rejections.
UCI struggled with their attack, hitting as low as .043 in the second set while finishing the game striking a .189 clip to the Cougar’s .333.
In the losing effort, Hodges led the ‘Eaters with eight kills as Hershko logged seven of his own. Seeing the floor for the first time this season, junior Aaron Koubi contributed five kills and two blocks.
After two Cougar attacking errors put the ‘Eaters up early in the first set, Langlois swung across two service aces that helped BYU overtake the advantage, 6-4. A service error from Apfelbach and a pair of kills from Langlois and Patch would extend the lead out to four, 9-5.
Despite having a quiet night, Hershko along with Koubi, would help the ‘Eaters pace back and cut the deficit to two at 21-19, but the Cougars would use a block to spark a series of kills to close the set at 25-21.
BYU followed up with their most dominant set of the night. After allowing the ‘Eaters to tie the game up on a service error, 2-2, BYU would not relinquish the lead again. Using a 11-6 run, the Cougars held UCI to just 18 points to cap the set off, 25-18.
Trailing two sets, UCI made a hard push in the third to keep the match alive. Following a period where they forced three ties, the ‘Eaters took their first lead of the set on a BYU error, 4-3. Both teams would trade points until Younggren and Koubi double-teamed for a block that gave UCI a 16-15 advantage. Back to back kills by Hodges extended the lead to three, but it would be one of the last major runs for the ‘Eaters as Lang and Patch would combine for nine kills to put away the match, 28-26.
Having split their matches against BYU, UCI will return to action this week, beginning with a match in Riverside against Cal Baptist tomorrow before returning to the Bren Events Center to face USC Friday. Both contests will kick off at 7:00pm.