Seniors Tamir Hershko and Thomas Hodges, along with sophomore Karl Apfelbach, led a balanced attack across five sets to award the No.7 UC Irvine men’s volleyball their first MPSF victory in the Bren Events Center Saturday evening.
“It’s always great to end with a W,” said Hershko. “We just kept course correcting … no one likes to lose, but it’s part of the sport, and we just have to keep going out there and take each game at a time.”
Hershko recorded a season-best and match-high 19 kills as Hodges posted 15 and Apfelbach added 12 of his own.
Senior Michael Saeta had a career night, with 55 set assists to go along with his two aces, three blocks and five kills, which had come on seven errorless swings (.714).
Freshman Scott Stadick clogged the middle, knotting his career-high with eight block assists and one solo rejection for nine total blocks.
Collectively, UCI outmatched CSUN with 15.5 blocks to the Matadors’ 5.5 on the night.
“[The blocks] were a credit to our serving,” said head coach David Kniffin. “When we pull the pass off the net, we get more reaction time. It was nice to see some of our guys starting to do some things that we know they can do.”
After trading point-for-point to open the first set, Saeta gave the ‘Eaters their first lead (9-8) with a service ace.
UCI would carry their run on the next two serves, garnering two more points on a triple block from Stadick, Hershko and Apfelbach followed by another Saeta ace.
The Matadors would power back on a few errors from the ‘Eaters’ end of the net to tie the set up at 14-14.
CSUN and UCI would rally back and forth once before a kill from sophomore Dimitar Kalchev (15 kills and three blocks) and an ‘Eater attacking error gave the Matadors a 23-21 advantage that they would go on to use to win the set, 25-23, off two more kills.
UCI bounced back with a dominant second set, taking on the first point and routing the Matadors for the rest of the way.
The ‘Eaters locked down defensively, registering 3.5 blocks, one of which came from Stadick and Apfelbach to give UCI a 19-16 advantage.
Following a kill from Apfelbach, the ‘Eaters turned up the pressure on CSUN, and with an attacking error, UCI took on their largest lead at 21-17. Hodges would bring down the exclamatory 24th point before a CSUN error drew the set to a close.
Junior Arvis Greene (team-high 17 kills) rung in two kills to help the Matadors open the third on an 8-4 run but another Hershko kill and the ‘Eaters’ blocking game brought UCI back and cut the deficit to one at 8-7. The block party continued on the next few serves as a Stadick and Hershko rejection tied up the set at 10 apiece.
A pair of lapses and miscues on the ‘Eaters’ side helped the Matadors reclaim the lead, 21-19, but UCI forced another tie with a similar sequence early in the set with a Hershko kill and an additional block. After creating some late separation, Hodges took set point, 25-23, with a kill.
UCI could not put the game away in the next set, however, as the Matadors hit a .450 clip — their best percentage since the opening — to go on a 17-10 run.
CSUN also enacted some revenge, giving the ‘Eaters a taste of their own medicine with a rare block that kept UCI at a distance, 20-15.
Riding on their lead, the Matadors capitalized on a number of service errors and a kill from Kalchev forced the fifth set, 25-19.
“We’re still learning how to put pressure on teams from the service line,” said coach Kniffin. “When you don’t have guys putting consistent pressure on teams … they will hang around, because most teams at this level are pretty efficient siding out. The flip to that is that they had a couple of servers that caused us problems, and that prevented us from siding out quickly, so we were bleeding points in short runs … but we were still bleeding points, which gave us a lot of ground to make up.”
UCI then saw their best hitting set on the night, hitting a .692 clip in the fifth to shake off their two-game skid.
As they had done efficiently for the entirety of the night, UCI would use subsequent blocks to generate a 4-1 advantage. The Matadors fought back, using their four kills to keep the game alive at 10-8.
UCI controlled the rest of the game, however, and snagged the next five points.
Hershko brought down the match-turning kill that would go on to be capped off with a double block for the win.
With the victory, the ‘Eaters will host an alumni match next Saturday, but will have two weeks to prepare for their next pair of contests, which will come Friday, Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24, when the team returns to the Bren to entertain UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, respectively.
“We’ve never had this [long break] before, so I’m looking forward to it,” said coach Kniffin. “I think it gives us an opportunity to train, and it gives a couple of guys the opportunity to really rest … and those two things don’t really get to happen in a competitive season very often. Typically, we are always in a state of preparing for our next opponent … so now we could really focus on us for a bit.”