After five sets of electric volleyball, the UCI men defeated their rival BYU Cougars on Saturday night to complete a two game sweep of the fifth ranked Cougars. (25-16, 24-26, 25-18, 21-25, 15-13).
In 2013, the rivalry culminated with UCI stealing a national title from the top seeded BYU. Although the title wasn’t on the line yet on Saturday, the teams played as if it were.
“We knew they’d be tough games, but we treated it like every other game. I think that’s what makes us good,” said Aaron Koubi, UCI’s senior outside hitter who landed 17 kills and three block assists in the victory, “We treat every game the same, whether it’s the best team in the country or the worst team.”
With the victory, the sixth ranked Anteaters advance to a 9-1 record, while the fifth ranked Cougars slump to a 5-3 record.
On offense, junior setter Dante Chakravorti controlled the game for UCI. His 52 assists were as many as the BYU men’s combined assists. Freshman outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller landed a career high 19 kills, the second career career high of the weekend for Schneidmiller; junior outside hitter Karl Apfelbach 15 kills, 4 block assists, and 2 solo blocks. And sophomore middle blocker Scott Stadick recorded 10 kills, 5 block assists, and 1 solo block.
The key to their offensive success according to Koubi, “It’s Dante…he puts us in good situations and that makes it easier.”
BYU struck the first blow in set one, but the Anteaters quickly answered with nine points courtesy of Stadick’s defense and Schneidmiller’s offense. And although the BYU men, led by freshman outside Gabi Garcia-Fernandez, fought back they were no match for the UCI men. Stadick’s four block assists in the first set the tone for UCI’s defense throughout the game
At set point, Karl Apfelbach landed a kill to secure a set one victory for UCI, 25-16.
Entering set two, the ‘Eaters played with a fearless confidence, but the Cougars wouldn’t let the Anteaters take the second set easily. Down 20-23, kills by Stadick and Koubi forced a close match point at 23-24 BYU. After a BYU server error resulted in a tied match point, but two UCI errors gave BYU a win in the second set, 24-26
After BYU scored first in set three, the ‘Eaters fought back to a commanding 16-8 lead. With the crowd chanting “Let’s go Eaters,” at match point, Stadick drove a kill to secure a set three victory for UCI.
The Bren was lined wall to wall with boisterous BYU fans, and in the fourth set their voice became prominent.
Stadick enjoyed the Bren crowd on Saturday, stating,“Half the crowd chanting for UCI, and half BYU, that gets you going inside. That’s almost more fun than them all cheering for you.”
Energized by their fans, the BYU men kept a narrow one to two point lead on the UCI men throughout, and finished the fourth set with a win to force a fifth round. (21-25)
Kills by Stadick and Koubi put UCI ahead by 3 early in the fifth set, but the Cougars fought back quickly. After an Apfelbach-Younggren block brought the game to a 14-12 match point, a Younggren-Chakravorti block secured a victory for UCI.
Headed into this week, Anteater fans hope the victories over BYU will provide fuel for the tough schedule ahead. On Friday, UCI plays the men from Stanford at home; and on Saturday, UCI will again play the number two seed UCLA Bruins at the Bren.
Defensively, the ‘Eaters will need to be tough to play the Bruins. As Chakravorti said after the game,“BYU is an unbelievable team in terms of the arms they have. Biggest thing for me defensively is to listen to Scott and Matt to set up the defense. As long as everyone keeps doing their job, and we try and get a little better every day, I think we’ll move in the right direction.”
If the Anteaters are able to beat the Bruins and Cardinal this upcoming weekend, they will likely rise further in the NCAA rankings.
Koubi says that “playing every game one point at a time,” and not giving away any sets with carelessness will be the keys against the Bruins.