No.3 UCI Closes Regular Season Play in Dominant Fashion
“If we play what we call Irvine volleyball…we believe that [level of play] consistently over time is going to beat just about any team,” Stadick said.
Sophomore Scott Stadick says his team’s mindset heading into the inaugural Big West Men’s Volleyball Tournament next weekend is one that No. 3 UC Irvine men’s volleyball (20-8, 6-4) has attempted to instill into their identity all season long.
Over the course of conference play, there have been flashes of this brilliance — “Irvine volleyball” — but there have also been some fair share of frustrating losses.
After one such upset to No.12 UC Santa Barbara (11-12, 4-6) last Thursday, “Irvine volleyball” was in full effect once again Saturday night when the ‘Eaters swept the Gauchos (25-18, 30-28, 25-21) in a rematch at the Bren Events Center to conclude their long regular season campaign.
Stadick, who set a new season high in solo rejections with 26, added two more solo blocks to his always expanding defensive portfolio Saturday, a masterful individual performance in Thursday’s loss. Although the seven-foot Watertown, Wisconsin native was credited for getting a hand on five swings from Santa Barbara, he believed that the collective team effort should actually be commended. In all, the ‘Eaters had registered 11 total team denials.
“[Blocking] is pretty much a team effort…We’re all working collaboratively,” Stadick said of UCI’s play at the net. “The stat sheet might say I have five blocks but most of the time two of them were actually from [Apfel]bach and two of them from Koubi. We have our system that we put in place and our pins execute perfectly so…they help us out a lot. If it was just me and Austin [Wilmot] running around out there, it would not look the same.”
Stadick also led the offensive punch with 12 kills hitting on a team-high .625 while senior Aaron Koubi posted 11 and junior Karl Apfelbach added 10. None of the three heavy hitters had committed many errors with Stadick and Koubi snagging two apiece and Apfelbach with one. Bothering and disrupting the Gauchos at the net while minimizing their errors, UCI outhit their opposition, .456-.260.
Koubi handed the ‘Eaters their first lead of the night, firing a leaping service ace — one of two for UCI for the match — to put the ‘Eaters up 4-3. From there, UCI went on a series of intermittent three-point spurts. Stadick sparked one such run, bringing down a hammer on his own before junior Dante Chakravorti, who finished with 40 assists in 71 attempts, set him up for another on the subsequent serve. Still hot, Stadick rose up and teamed up with freshman Joel Schneidmiller to deny a Santa Barbara attack to get the ‘Eaters up on a 17-10 separation. The Gauchos would get as close as five, but UCI sealed the set, 25-18, on a solo block from none other than Stadick and a service error on the Gauchos’ end.
The second set was a curious one. After taking the first lead and point of the period off another Santa Barbara service error, the ‘Eaters would relinquish the lead and would not hold it again until abruptly earning set point on a Koubi-Stadick denial, 24-23. Much like how the set had actually played out, one where the two teams dueled point to point and forced over 13 ties, the next few serves went back and forth in a battle to take the second. But following five more subsequent set points, Koubi jammed one through the upper left to end it, 30-28.
In another competitive set, a 4-0 UCI run proved to be a crucial deciding factor that would help end the match quickly. Although the Gauchos would stay afloat, hinging on their sophomore tandem of Roy McFarland (13 kills) and Spencer Fredrick (9 kills) who both helped shave their deficit to three, UCI would take full advantage of their late run as Koubi would cap the match and set with a gliding strike to finalize it, 25-21.
“We didn’t play our game [on Thursday],” Koubi said. “We played at their speed and tonight, we just played our game…we played some Irvine volleyball and it’s good that we played a good game just before playoffs.”
Deadlocked for second place in Big West conference standings with Hawai’i, UCI’s victory turned the pressure up on the Rainbow Warriors who had the tall task of facing an undefeated and sure-favorite No.1 Long Beach State squad twice to conclude their regular season slate.
After taking the 49ers to a thrilling five-set affair Friday, one that Hawai’i had narrowly given up, the Rainbow Warriors forced Long Beach into another exciting five-set contest late Saturday night, this time, handing the 49ers their first tally on the loss column. The Rainbow Warriors’ hard-fought win not only spoiled the conference champ’s perfect season, but also secured Hawai’i second place and a bye into the semifinals of the Big West tournament at Long Beach’s Walter Pyramid. In turn, the now third-seeded ‘Eaters are set to face UC San Diego in the first round of the Big West Tournament Thursday at 5 p.m.
Seniors Reid Dominguez, Tucker Pikula, Ben Sebastian, and Logan were honored at the end of Saturday’s match for their contributions to the program.
Surrounded by their families and teammates, armed with a handful flowers and candy leis, head coach David Kniffin imparted congratulatory words for each player.
Apfelbach also shared some words about the seniors in a post game interview.
“We love those guys…they’re culture guys,” Apfelbach said. “They’ve contributed as much as anyone else and we’re going to miss them, but luckily for us the season is not over.”