No. 4 UCI Clashes with No.1 Long Beach

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No. 4 UC Irvine men’s volleyball battled through two competitive matches against the nation’s best in Long Beach, but the ’49ers would outlast the ‘Eaters on a Friday night duel at the Pyramid before downing the ‘Eaters once more Saturday at the Bren.

Friday

Even a career high by senior Aaron Koubi couldn’t keep the No. 1 CSU Long Beach men’s volleyball team at bay Friday night as the Anteaters lost in a hard-fought five-set match. (22-25, 25-15, 25-16, 21-25, 15-9)

No. 4 UCI snapped their six game win streak against their division rivals, but they remain in contention for the NCAA title soon to come.

Koubi led the Anteaters with a career high 21 kills, a season high nine digs and three block assists. Koubi’s stellar forth set, highlighted by eight kills without an error, kept the Anteaters alive. Junior opposite Karl Apfelbach recorded 10 kills, seven digs, and three blocks. Sophomore middle Scott Stadick recorded nine kills, and five block assists; while senior libero David Parker recorded a season high 14 digs; and junior setter Dante Chakravorti recorded 36 set assists, and eight digs.

The CSULB 49ers extended their perfect season to 20-0. What’s amazing about this game isn’t that CSULB won, but that UCI played stellar against the 49ers. Prior to Friday’s game, the 49ers had only lost five sets all season, and had not been taken to a fifth set. By that logic, the Anteaters played better than any other team has this season against the 49ers.

Long Beach was able to win the match by their two greatest strengths this season: a high shooting percentage, and keeping their opponents to a low shooting percentage. Currently, Long Beach sits atop the NCAA rankings for their team shooting percentage (.409) which is fifty points higher than the next best team in college. Opponents, meanwhile, only shoot .171 against the 49ers, which gives Beach the second best defensive rating of any NCAA team in 2018.

On Friday, the Anteaters shot a season low .197 attack percentage against the 49ers, but still managed to take Beach to the fifth set.

UCI will likely play Long beach again come April 19 for the Big West Championship. The winner of the championship will then go on to the NCAA championship tournament in early May held at UCLA.

Saturday

UCI suffered another difficult loss to their division rivals, the No. 1 CSULB 49ers, on Saturday night in the Bren. The Anteaters continued to challenge the perfect 21-0 49ers, but were not able to surpass the 49ers’ offense led by juniors TJ DeFalco and Kyle Ensing’s offense. The final scores were: (18-25), (21-25), (25-22) and (20-25).

Junior Karl Apfelbach led the Anteaters with 20 kills, five block assists and a .306 hit percentage. Senior outside hitter Aaron Koubi was close behind with 10 kills, one server’s ace, 31 receives and a .148 hit percentage. Freshman Joel Schneidmiller recorded nine aces, and shot .080 with two block assists and five digs. Junior setter Dante Chakravorti recorded one kill, 41 assists, and seven digs. Senior libero David Parker recorded 13 digs. Middle blockers Austin Wilmot and Scott Stadick recorded five kills and four block assists each.

The key to the Anteaters’ losses against Beach is due to offensive errors and a low attack percentage. In Saturday’s loss, UCI hit a season low .188 attack percentage. Meanwhile, Long Beach didn’t hit below .222 in the match.

“We should expect these guys to do well,” Apfelbach said. “I think our gameplan wasn’t executed as highly as it was yesterday.”

In the first set, Long Beach took an early and impressive lead. Halfway through the set, the 49ers were leading 13-5. Koubi and Apfelbach’s three kills each kept the Anteaters alive in the first set, but UCI lost the first set while shooting .067. (18-25)

In the second set UCI’s offense came alive. The Anteaters took an early 4-2 lead, their first lead of the game. Long Beach, however quickly fought back on Kyle Ensing’s offense and UCI’s offensive errors. The score was neck and neck until a UCI error, and a 49er offensive showing gave the 49ers a 13-10 lead halfway through the set. From there, Long Beach kept pressure on UCI until a UCI service error sealed a second set loss, (21-25)

The teams went point for point in set three, till UCI took a three straight points to make the score 13-10. Apfelbach recorded eight more kills in the third set. Long Beach closed the score within two points late in the third set, but UCI maintained their lead by forcing the 49ers into offensive errors. At match point, Koubi’s kill sealed the set with a UCI victory, (25-21)

UCI wasn’t able to maintain the momentum they’d gained in set three. By set four, even as UCI played their best offensive volleyball of the match by shooting .272, Long Beach’s offense had become too hot for the Anteaters. The teams traded points at nearly a tied score till halfway through the set when long beach took a three point lead at 13-10. Led by TJ DeFalco’s 19 kills and Kyle Ensing’s 18 kills, the 49ers coasted to a 24-19 lead at match point. Although Apfelbach’s block kept UCI alive at match point, a UCI net serve ended the game, (20-25)

Despite the loss, Karl Apfelbach was hopeful about the upcoming matches against Beach. “I think we’re just grinding right now,” Apfelbach said. “The thing about good teams is they can only get so much better. I think if we can control the game, we definitely can keep competing against Long Beach.”

The Anteaters will face No. 8 CSUN next week in a two match swing on the road and at home. The losses to the 49ers haven’t dissuaded the Anteaters as their season comes to a close, if anything they appear to be more confident in their final games. As cohesive team play increases for UCI, the outlook for the Big West Championship appears brighter.

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