No. 3 UCI subdued No. 9 Cal State Northridge in one of the most exciting games at the Bren Events Center this year.
Friday’s five-set match was highlighted by seven match points in the final set, a 40 kill game by CSUN’s Arvis Greene Jr. and four Anteaters posting double digit kills.
The Anteaters’ victory over their fellow Big West competitor, CSUN, establishes their standing near the top of the most competitive division in NCAA men’s volleyball this year. UCI will face CSUN Saturday night on the road for the second of the two game series.
UCI’s players are excited to play the second match against CSUN and feel confident heading toward the Big West Championship at the end of the month. Junior Dante Chakravorti said of the victory, “CSUN is very good team defensively, and I think they’ll challenge us tomorrow.”
UCI’s diverse offense Friday hails from Chakravorti’s 55 assists, four kills, three block assists, one server’s ace, five digs and game-clinching kill. Senior Aaron Koubi led the Anteaters in kills with 17, and also recorded two server’s aces, nine digs and two block assists. Junior Karl Apfelbach also recorded 17 kills, along with 10 digs and three block assists. Sophomore Scott Stadick recorded 14 kills, three digs and three block assists with a .722 kill percentage. Freshman Joel Schneidmiller posted 14 kills, one server’s ace, seven digs and two block assists.
CSUN’s Arvis Greene Jr.’s 40 points on 73 attempts is the most posted by anyone in the NCAA this season, and is the school’s second most scored in a single match for CSUN since rally scoring overtook side-out scoring in 1999. Greene Jr. is currently second in the nation in kills per set, and is likely the best offensive player in the NCAA this season.
While checking Greene’s stats after the game, an astonished Chakravorti remarked, “He got 73 attempts? That’s gnarly! And he’s still hitting .384. I’ve never seen a stat-line like that.”
Koubi agreed that Greene’s performance was gnarly and added, “He was on fire. It’s tough to stop him…But I don’t think he can do that two nights in a row.”
UCI dominated the first set 25-17, courtesy of Stadick and Koubi’s offense.
In set 2, CSUN took its first lead of the game after a four-point run made the score 14-13 in their favor. UCI, however, quickly answered and retook the lead at 20-19 off a Koubi kill. At match point, Chakravorti battled at the net to secure a victory for UCI by wrestling the ball from a CSUN player for the kill.
CSUN came truly alive halfway through set three. CSUN stole momentum from the Anteaters by taking the lead at 13-12. Shortly after, Greene led CSUN to two point lead over the Anteaters, to make the score 18-16. UCI had a chance to end set three and the match, but Greene’s five kills at the close of the match secured the hopes for CSUN.
“I think we could’ve closed it in three,” Koubi said, “but we got a little complacent. I think tomorrow if we just start good and we continue on that, there’s no reason we shouldn’t finish in three.”
UCI took an early lead in set 4, but CSUN regained and maintained the lead shortly afterword. The Anteaters trailed barely in set 4, and didn’t catch CSUN till an Austin Wilmot block tied the score at 17. By the end of set 4, Greene’s 31 kills were the most surrendered to any one player by the Anteaters this season.
In set 5, UCI took the court and an early lead with a flurry. Led by Stadick, Koubi, and Apfelbach’s offense, UCI held a three-point lead nearing the end of the final set. With the score 10-7 in UCI’s favor, CSUN battled back. Led by Greene’s nine kills in the fifth, CSUN tied match point at 14. Seven match points ensued. Every lead taken by UCI was answered with a CSUN kill to tie. Finally, with the score 21-20, Chakravorti’s trick kill slammed past CSUN defenders and gave UCI a victory.
When asked about the final point, Chakravorti was all smiles, and said, “As a setter, my role is not really to score points. I try to put my guys in the best position to score points, but when I saw it open up I went for it and you really can’t describe that feeling of adrenaline. The big thing for me is not that I scored, it’s that I turn around and look at my teammates. I get a better feeling out of looking [them] in the eye.”
The Anteaters head to CSUN Saturday night to finish out the series against the no. 9 Matadors. This Big West matchup is crucial to deciding who will play in the NCAA tournament this season. With Long Beach undefeated atop the Big West and NCAA rankings, it will take perfection for UCI against all other Big West teams to take the division.
The no. 3 ranked Anteaters sweep their division rivals, the no. 9 Cal State Northridge Matadors, on the road in 3 sets. (25-18) (25-23) (25-20)
Saturday’s victory, led by junior opposite Karl Apfelbach’s offense and sophmomore middle blocker Scott Stadick’s defense, places the Anteaters in great standing as the Big West Championship approaches.
Apfelbach recorded a match high 12 kills on 21 hits with a .524 hit percentage, 4 blocks and a servers ace. Stadick recorded 9 kills, and 8 blocks, including a career high 4 solo blocks. Stadick’s night marked a milestone in his performance. He now has 48 career blocks in 194 sets, and is in the Anteater top 10 for career blocks.
Freshman outside Joel Schneidmiller had 7 kills and 5 total blocks, as Senior outside Aaron Koubi recorded 5 kills, and junior setter Dante Chakravorti totaled 32 assists. Senior libero David Parker also recorded a match high 7 digs.
Next Friday and Saturday, the Anteaters will play their final matches of the regular season against no. 11 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. The series against UCSB will help determine UCI’s standing in the Big West tournament on April 19th. The winner of the tournament, to be held at no. 1 CSULB’s home stadium, will be guaranteed a seat in the NCAA final tournament.
Currently, UCI has only dropped 3 league matches, two against no. 1 Long Beach and 1 against no. 6 Hawaii.
Koubi stated before Saturday’s match, “We need to get a win tomorrow, and then get two against Santa Barbara so we can get a number 2 seed. If we have a no. 2 seed, then we only have 2 games in the playoffs and not 3 like the others, which is huge because playing 3 games in a row is tough.”
Now that the Anteaters have hung W’s against CSUN, Koubi’s hopes for consecutive victories against Santa Barbara, and a clear path to a 3 game playoff are possible. Next week’s matches will determine the Big West tournament, and in turn, determine if UCI will play for a fifth NCAA championship.
The only top 3 team to beat UCI this season is CSULB, and if UCI can surpass the flawless 49er’s, they will hang a fifth NCAA championship in 11 seasons.