Without seeing any action over a two week period, No. 5 UC Irvine men’s volleyball (17-6, 11-5) did not let up and carried on with their hot run, picking up 3-1 set victories over No. 8 Pepperdine (9-10, 7-9) and subsequently No. 9 Stanford (11-11, 6-9) to go undefeated on their long six game road trip.
Two weeks removed of dethroning Ohio State in a 3-0 straight set victory, UCI did not show any signs of rust in their 3-1 victory at Firestone Fieldhouse on March 25th.
Despite committing 29 service errors, the ‘Eaters were otherwise dominant offensively, recording a season high 78 kills — 33 more than their opposition.
UCI also finished hitting a collective .407 as opposed to the Waves’ .290
Senior Tamir Hershko was the ‘Eaters’ leading man, logging a match-high 22 kills and a season-high 11 digs. Meanwhile, senior Thomas Hodges and junior Aaron Koubi each racked up 16 kills. Koubi also garnered a career-high 10 digs.
It was also a career night for freshman Scott Stadick who continued to make his presence felt in the middle by bringing down a new career-best 15 kills on .667 hitting. On the defensive end, Stadick turned the Waves back with four total blocks.
Senior Michael Saeta registered a personal best 65 assists to go along with five kills and three service aces — a category in which he currently leads the team in with 55.
UCI dominated Pepperdine in an opening set where the Waves had never led. After taking on an 8-3 lead that was capped off by a Hershko kill, the Waves found some momentum on three straight kills that helped them knot the game up at 11-11.
UCI then capitalized on back to back attacking errors on Pepperdine’s end and with a kill from Koubi and an ace from Saeta, the ‘Eaters went right back up by four.
Keeping their foot on the gas pedal, UCI continued to have high success with their attacking. Finishing the set hitting .409, the ‘Eaters would pace out the rest of the set and on a kill from Hodges, UCI quickly took it, 25-18.
The Waves kept it close in the second set. After trading blow for blow with the ‘Eaters, Pepperdine’s senior Mitchell Penning came up big in back to back swings, delivered a kill and a subsequent block that gave Pepperdine a 17-15 advantage. Saeta fed Stadick in the middle for a kill to cut the lead down to one, but the Waves powered right back with a kill of their own to bring their lead back up to two at 18-16.
Once again, the ‘Eaters remained in control, responding on a quick 7-2 run to quickly overtake the set, 23-19. Penning returned to be a thorn on the ‘Eaters’ side, stuffing two swings from Hodges and Koubi to make things interesting but senior Andrew Benz checked into the match for a timely kill before Hershko put the set away, 25-22, with a kill of his own.
Pepperdine mustered up everything they could to prolong the match in a third set that saw 21 ties and three set points. Neither team would lead by more than two for the entirety of the period.
Hitting .481 — what would become their best percentage of the match — in the set to combat UCI’s hot .548 clip, the Waves kept themselves within striking distance.
A kill from freshman Noah Dyer and a double block gave the Wave’s their largest lead of the set at 22-20.
UCI’s power hitting seniors in Hershko and Hodges tied the set up, 22-22, with two straight kills.
When the Waves locked down and took set point, 24-23, Hershko fired another kill as Stadick and Hodges rose and denied Pepperdine on the subsequent swing for their set defining lead and match point, 25-24.
Pepperdine battled back, but Stadick brought down two of his own to nullify the Waves’ attack and to give the ‘Eaters two more match point opportunities at 26-25 then 27-26.
However, junior Clay Carr would go on to deliver a clutch kill that gave the Waves a 29-28 advantage to turn the pressure right back on the ‘Eaters. Shortly after, sophomore Michael Wexter closed the set on a kill to send the game to the fourth.
Capitalizing on a service error, the ‘Eaters went on to score four unanswered — two courtesy of Koubi — to garner a 15-11 lead in the fourth set.
Dyer kicked off a 5-0 Pepperdine run to answer, giving the Waves the lead, 16-15. Pepperdine went on to stay out front until Hodges connected on two straight assists from Saeta to reclaim the advantage, 19-18.
While the Waves hung around on the next few serves, UCI would be the one holding match point three times before a kill from Hershko and an attacking error on Pepperdine’s end of the net brought the match to a close, 28-26.
A week later, the ‘Eaters traveled to Maples Pavilion and took down Stanford in four sets (25-23, 31-29, 21-25, 25-19).
Coming off of a 16-kill outing against the Waves, Hodges emerged with 18 to lead the ‘Eaters. Hodges also filled out the rest of his stat line with five digs and two blocks.
Koubi had another 16-kill match on a team-high .462 clip. The second year Cannes native also logged a team-best seven digs.
Hershko had nine kills as Stadick added seven of his own to go along with six total blocks. Saeta knocked down all of his six swings for a perfecting hitting night.
Despite seeing a dip in their hitting percentage from their prior match against the Waves, UCI still managed to outhit the Cardinal, .352-.269.
The ‘Eaters cracked open the first set on a 7-1 run that forced an early Stanford timeout. UCI was not fazed by the breakage in play as Saeta came out with a kill to extend the lead to seven before the Cardinal rallied to pull within three, 13-10.
Kills from Hodges, Koubi, and Stadick helped the ‘Eaters create some separation but the Cardinal came out of another time out and got on a 4-0 run to cut UCI’s advantage to two, 18-16. On a double block on Koubi, Stanford was just a point shy of tying the set up, 20-19, but the Cardinal committed two costly errors before kills from Hodges and Stadick rewarded UCI with the set, 25-23.
Stanford took the first point in the second and after going back and forth with the ‘Eaters, a UCI service error and two kills gave the Cardinal a 10-7 lead.
When the ‘Eaters knotted the set up on a kill from freshman Matthew Younggren, double block from Saeta and Stadick, and another Hodges kill, the Cardinal had another offensive spurt that was capped off by a kill from senior Gabriel Vega, who finished with a team high 13 kills, for a 16-13 lead.
On a crucial kill from junior Kevin Rakestraw, Stanford garnered set point at 24-22. UCI, however, navigated through the pressure and looked to Hodges to deliver two huge kills to tie the game up at 24-24.
On another kill from Vega, Stanford earned their second set-point, 26-24, and would go on to get in a winning position two more times, but the ‘Eaters continued to stick around.
A Saeta ace and a Koubi kill would become major turning points for the ‘Eaters as they used the points to take a 30-29 advantage. The long set came to an end when the ‘Eaters forced an errant attack on Stanford’s side of the net.
Stanford led an inspired third set to keep the match alive. The Cardinal pulled the trigger first, going on a 4-1 run that quickly extended to a 15-11 lead. UCI cut the deficit to two at 20-18, but never led in the set as Stanford went on to route the ‘Eaters in the set, 25-21.
Reminiscent of their dominant finish against Pepperdine, UCI responded with a fiery fourth set. The ‘Eaters sparked their momentum on the opening serve when Stadick and Hodges sent a Cardinal attack back that helped UCI go on a 5-2 run.
The Cardinal countered with four unanswered points to take the lead but a Hodges kill tied the set up and shortly later, a double block from Hershko and Younggren followed by a Saeta kill put UCI up by two, 11-9.
The ‘Eaters went on to keep the Cardinal at bay for the rest of the set as a kill from Hershko, a Stanford attacking error, and final slam from Hodges rewarded UCI their sixth victory to go perfect on their long road trip.
Having weathered a tough month, the ‘Eaters will finally return home this Friday when they will host the Cardinal. The first serve will be at 7:00 p.m.