Dominant UCLA offense marked the difference in a 3-1 Bruin victory in Saturday’s matchup between the No. 4 Anteaters and No. 2 Bruins at the Bren. Though UCI played well offensively with a team attack percentage between .312 and .500 in every set, they were outplayed by the crafty Bruins, who shot over .400 in three of the four sets (21-25, 22-25, 25-18, 19-25).
The loss snapped UCI’s eight game winning streak, and cemented UCLA’s No. 2 status.
“They outhit us by point one,” said UCI junior opposite Karl Apfelbach after the game. “There was little plays that change the momentum of the game, and I think that’s what happened to us tonight, but it’s early in the season still.”
Little plays and positioning decided the matchup. Offensively, Apfelbach recorded 17 kills, one service ace, seven digs and one block assist. Freshman outside Joel Schneidmiller recorded 12 kills, four digs and one block assist. Sophomore Scott Stadick recorded nine kills and two block assists. Senior outside hitter Aaron Koubi recorded nine kills, four digs, and two block assists. Junior setter Dante Chakravorti recorded one kill, 43 assists and eight digs. Senior libero David Parker recorded four assists and seven digs.
But even this offense wasn’t enough for UCLA’s Daenan Gyimah, Micah Ma’a, Christian Hessenauer and JT Hatch who all recorded over 13 kills, along with Ma’a’s 52 sets.
Both teams entered Saturday’s rivalry match up energized by sweep victories on Friday night. In their last meeting, UCLA fought back after losing the first two sets to win the game 3-2. Since then, UCLA had only lost to No. 3 Hawaii, and UCI had been on an eight game winning streak, which included two victories over the then ranked No. 4 BYU Cougars.
UCI began with a strong first set. Courtesy of Koubi and Apfelbach’s offense, the Anteaters quickly went up 13-11 on the Bruins. But halfway through the set, UCLA’s offense came alive and quickly scored six unanswered points to make the match 15-19 in their favor. But after a Koubi kill ended UCLA’s point streak UCI fought back to bring the match point to 21-24 in UCLA’s favor. With Dylan Missry serving match point, the UCI men faulted a net violation and forfeited the contested first set to UCLA, though Apfelbach finished the set with six kills.
UCLA had an attack percentage of .577 in the first, while UCI’s attack was .318.
UCLA took the first point of the second set, but UCI quickly regained the lead off a Schneidmiller kill and maintained a two point lead throughout the second thanks to Schneidmiller, Stadick, Apfelbach and Koubi’s offense, in tandem with Chakravorti and Parker’s defense. After a three point UCLA offensive run, a Missry kill re-tied the game at 19. UCLA’s two point run to make it 22-21 appeared to deflate the Anteater crowd. Match point, Stadick’s kill kept UCI alive at 22-24, but UCLA’s Oliver Martin soon finished the set with a kill to make it 22-25 UCLA.
Schneidmiller recorded seven kills in the second. While Apfelbach, Koubi and Stadick recorded two kills each.
UCI entered the third set determined not to be swept in the Bren. Two kills by Apfelbahch and one kill by Schneidmiller gave UCI an early 4-1 lead, but Gyimah’s offense for UCLA soon tied the game at four. The game remained close till a Chakravorti kill followed by a Apfelbach-Stadick block gave the Anteaters a four point lead of 21-17. Apfelbach sealed the victory for UCI in set three at 25-18.
Apfelbach had five kills, one block assist in the third. Koubi had two kills, and Stadick had two kills, two block assists. UCI shot .500 with two blocks in the third set victory.
UCLA scored first in the fourth, and although UCI kept the score close, UCLA maintained a steady lead. Down five at 8-13, a Stadick Kill fueled the Anteaters who went on a run to keep the score within two. But the eaters pulled ahead again. As the game approached match point, the UCI crowd was deflated. At match point, UCI couldn’t return a block by UCLA’s Ma’a and Martin, and UCLA won the game with a 19-25 victory in the fourth.
The Anteaters will now have an 11 day break before playing Pepperdine on February 14. While the Anteaters offense was alive, defensively, the team recorded 10 less kills than they did on Friday night. UCI’s four blocks on saturday were their second lowest all season.
“We’re definitely not where we want to be right now,” said Schneidmiller about the defensive play Saturday night, “But I think we’ll definitely be there when we see them again.”
And the Anteaters will certainly see the Bruins again. Come tournament time, the teams are almost certain to face off for a shot at a national championship.
But until then, the boys will have to keep up the great play.
“We’re in a rhythm right now,” said Apfelbach, “where whoever we face we’re gonna be prepared for.”