Going on the road for an eight game trip, No. 7 UC Irvine men’s volleyball split their first two matches of their lengthy trek against ranked opponents with a four set loss (3-1) to No.2 Long Beach Wednesday before bouncing back with a five set (3-2) victory over No. 12 CSUN two days later.
UCI never quite found their offensive rhythm in their 3-1 (25-16, 25-22, 25-27, 25-15) loss to the 49ers Wednesday at the Walter Pyramid.
The ‘Eaters hit a season-low .105 with just 40 kills on 144 attempts and 28 miscues.
Senior outside hitter Thomas Hodges led UCI with eight kills and two aces. Freshman middle blocker Scott Stadick continues to be a bright spot for the ‘Eaters as he made his presence felt by garnering seven kills and five total stuffs.
UCI’s Swiss-army knife in senior setter Michael Saeta contributed 21 set assists, eight digs, six kills, and two blocks.
After picking up National player of the week nods, senior Tamir Hershko and junior Aaron Koubi returned to earth with six kills apiece.
Long Beach got off on a 5-1 run that they managed to extend to 18-10 on a kill from sophomore Kyle Ensing, who finished with 14 kills, eight digs, and four block assists for the 49ers.
Meanwhile, UCI committed eight errors—four on the service line—and hit -.042. A couple of errors on Long Beach’s end of the net pulled the ‘Eaters within seven (19-13), but the 49ers would use two crucial service aces, a kill, and UCI’s offensive woes to take the set, 25-16.
UCI shook off a bit of their abysmal start in the second set, picking up a 13-9 advantage on a kill and subsequent block from Stadick. The ‘Eaters stayed out front on the next few swings, but the 49ers raced back and knotted the match up, 20-20, on a slam from sophomore TJ DeFalco (12 kills, four digs, and three block assists). Following another kill from Long Beach, DeFalco emerged with a huge block that gave the 49ers a two-point advantage that would help them take the set, 25-22.
On the verge of being swept, the ‘Eaters battled back and hit .205 in the third, their best in the match, to rally back and force a fourth set.
Three straight kills from Saeta and junior Reid Dominguez gave UCI a 23-19 lead. Even with a four-point advantage, the 49ers locked the set up 24-24 within the next six swings, but a Koubi kill and Stadick ace kept the match alive, 27-25.
Long Beach dominated the fourth set, taking up six unanswered points and extended their lead to 12-3 on an ‘Eater attacking error. Seeing their hitting revert to the same woes that they had faced early on with a .082 clip, UCI could not turn the pressure back as the 49ers routed the ‘Eaters, 25-15 to take the match.
The ‘Eaters got back on track when they battled through a five set (23-25, 25-29, 25-16, 23-25, 15-13) match to return to the win column.
UCI appeared to get out all of their offensive woes in their last contest, collectively hitting a reinvigorated .410 clip on the night.
Koubi registered a career-high 20 kills on an impressive .455 hitting as Hodges and Hershko also had efficient attacking outings, hitting .542 and .407 respectively for 15 kills apiece.
Stadick rejected three Matador swings and added nine blocks as Saeta put up five kills of his own to go with 54 set assists and three aces.
Both teams got off on a red-hot start with the Matadors hitting an errorless .737 as the ‘Eaters only had three miscues with a .565 clip. Despite neither team garnering a lead greater than two for the better end of the set, CSUN took the early advantage that helped them squeeze through with a 25-22 in the first.
Neither team wanted to give way in the second with the teams trading point for point until a Hershko service ace propelled UCI on a 7-2 run that put them up front, 18-11.
Three consecutive errors from the ‘Eaters cut CSUN’s deficit to four, 19-15, but the Matadors committed a number of miscues of their own and two Koubi kills would help the ‘Eaters tie up the match with a 25-19 set victory.
UCI carried their momentum into the next set where they got off on a 5-1 run that blossomed to a 19-9 lead. Kills from Koubi and Hershko put the exclamation on the ‘Eaters dominant set, 25-16.
CSUN then crept back to challenge the ‘Eaters with a tightly contested fourth set. Much like the first, both teams traded blows until attacking errors gave the Matadors a slight 22-21 lead. On a CSUN kill and service error to bring the fourth to a close at 25-23, the Matadors took the match into a fifth set.
In the final set, Koubi brought down the first kill for the ‘Eaters and got his hand on a rejection to put UCI slightly up by two, 4-2.
The Matadors stayed in it, however, and was not easily shaken. They would battle back to tie up the set at 12-12. Then, CSUN made a costly error as Hershko and Stadick put the game away on back-to-back kills, 15-13.
With the victory, UCI is now 7-0 in games determined by five sets. The ‘Eaters will hope to use their win to ignite them this upcoming week when they face of trio of non-conference opponents beginning with Saint Francis Wednesday in Pennsylvania for a 4:00pm start.