Stellar defense, standout performances, season records, and a stupendous crowd led the no. 6 UC Irvine men’s volleyball team to a 4-1 (25-22, 25-23, 20-25, 25-21) victory against their rivals, no. 5 BYU Friday night at the Bren.
“It’d be hard to talk about the match without talking about the environment,” said Head coach David Kniffin after the game, “we get a good crowd out here, and to get a couple thousand in the Bren feels special.”
For a crowd of 1,700 fans, the Anteaters were more than special. Junior outside hitter Karl Apfelbach’s career high in kills (25) and server’s aces (6), coupled with freshman outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller’s career high 15 kills and 7 block assists were a spectacle of talent.
Apfelbach was happy about his career high after the game, but remained focused on Saturday’s follow up against BYU stating, “I think a career high is a career high, but I’m just trying to play point by point.”
Likewise, Schneidmiller, recently named Big West Freshman of the Week gave much credit of the win and his performance to the team.
Along with Apfelbach and Schneidmiller’s stand out stats, sophomore middle blocker Scott Stadick recorded 5 kills, 6 block assists; sophomore middle blocker Mathew Younggren had 5 block assists; and junior setter Dante Chakravorti recorded 44 assists and 8 digs at the net.
Both teams came for the win and fought like it in round one. After an early UCI lead, BYU fought back and kept the set neck and neck throughout. Excellent team defense, led by Stadicck, Younggren and Schneidmiller at the net kept the score tight till the final points of the match.
In the final volleys, Karl Apfelbach asserted himself against BYU, landing one kill at 21-18, followed by two consecutive servers aces to make it 24-19.
But BYU wouldn’t go silently. After four straight match points, UCI finally won round one off a BYU server error.
Set two was also charged. After BYU scored the first point, UCI fought back but couldn’t pull ahead, that its till an Apfelbach kill and servers ace gave UCI the lead at 3-2. UCI kept pressure on BYU, but the score remained close. Defense highlighted the second round, with a Koubi – Schneidmiller showcase leading to an 8-6 lead.
But, BYU soon tied the game at 9, and kept the score close throughout. After a brief UCI lead, BYU tied the game again at 20 heading into the final points. But a BYU kill gave the Cougars a lead at 21.
A Schneidmiller block, followed by a team block courtesy of Apfelbach and Chakravorti gave the Anteaters the lead at 22-21.
Following a BYU timeout, more Anteater defense and a kill by Schneidmiller brought UCI to a match point. After another timeout, Karl Apfelbach scored a cross court kill to end the set 25-23 UCI. Team defense was on display for UCI.
BYU took an early lead in set three, going ahead by 3 unanswered. But, after rallying, a behind the head set by Dante Chakravorti to Karl Apfelbach tied the score at 5. Chakravorti and Apfelbach’s teamwork was astounding throughout the game, and led to Apfelbach’s career high in kills.
With the score at 17-18, BYU’s Garcia Fernandez hit a rapid kill to give BYU a two point lead. BYU then pushed on to a 19-24 match point, which was contested by a UCI block. Sadly, although UCI’s home crowd chanted, another BYU kill sealed the set in favor of the Cougars 20-25.
Again, BYU took an early lead in set four. With the home crowd defiantly chanting, “LET’S GO EATERS,” Joel Schneidmiller whipped an excellent kill to bring the Eaters to within one, at 7-8.
Serving at an eleven point tie, Apfelbach’s servers ace gave UCI a lead at 12-11. Another Apfelbach server’s ace, 13-11.
After a BYU timeout, Kam furthered the lead with a consecutive kill and block to bring the score to 14-11.
Now with the lead, UCI began to attack BYU, with blocks by Stadick and Schneidmiller, and Kills by Apfelbach and Stadick, to bring the score to 21-16 UCI.
But, hot offense was returned by BYU and a Sander server’s ace brought the score to 22-20.
A comeback similar to set two appeared possible, but neither the UCI crowd nor the UCI players were worried.
At 23-21, a BYU server’s error off the net gives the serve to UCI. A Kam serve was then driven home by a Stadick block to bring the game to match point. And after a tough volley, Stadick secured victory with a final kill.
Victory was sweet for the UCI men after the game, but the battle’s not yet over. Saturday night, the Anteaters again face the Cougars in the Bren to finish their two game series against their rivals.
Schneidmiller, who grew up watching the UCI BYU rivalry said, “We came in with a good game plan, we executed very well blocking-wise, I think that’s where we really shut them down, and I think we’ll come out and try to do the same thing again.”
UCI’s spectacular win will likely give them the lead in the NCAA standings over BYU heading into tomorrow’s game, but ranking doesn’t secure a victory.
Facing BYU’s Garcia-Fernandez, whos 17 kills led the Cougars, will not be an easy task for the Anteaters. “He’s one of those guys who is able to do some stuff that you just gotta shrug your shoulders and move on,” Kniffin said about Garcia’s talent, “but those are the kind of players that bring the best out of what we do.”
Looking ahead, Coach Kniffin looked for improvement from the Anteaters, stating, “As good as their numbers were, I don’t think anybody was stellar tonight.”
Kniffin also highlighted Anteater blocking, stating, “when you can go toe to toe with a team that plays against great blocking in every practice, that’s nice for us to know that we can still have a presence at the net.”