The UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team (2-1) hosted their 2022 season home opener against the Harvard Crimson (0-1) at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 12, vanquishing the Ivy League school in just three sets (25-19, 25-22, 25-21). This victory sends the Anteaters into their nascent season with much-needed momentum as they embark on a week of volleyball competition.
The ‘Eaters started off slow in the first set as the Crimson applied early service pressure, earning an ace as the first point of the night. As the match ramped up, UCI’s passing and offense became cleaner and more consistent. The ‘Eaters began to implement their own pressure from the service line. UCI freshman outside hitter Hilir Henno recorded three aces while sophomore outside hitter Francesco Sani scored one ace, putting the Anteaters at a total of four aces in just the first set.
With this new found momentum from the Anteater service line, the Crimson defense began to crack. After an influx of Harvard unforced errors, Irvine easily transitioned and began to convert points. After a final kill from Henno, the first set concluded with UCI’s primary win of the night at 25-19.
As the second set began, Harvard’s first-set service pressure was nowhere to be found. The Ivy-Leaguers struggled early on from the service line racking up a total of 11 service errors in the second set alone. On the other hand, Irvine recorded only four.
The sudden lack of offensive dominance from behind the line gave Irvine the advantage in taking over the set. While the Crimson recorded an .478 hitting efficiency, the ‘Eaters recorded a .318. Even with a high-hitting percentage, the Crimson couldn’t take full control over this set.
Play continued as UC Irvine’s defense ramped up in the third set. The ‘Eaters recorded 10 of their 22 digs in this set alone. This impressive total was led by the defensive duo of junior libero Cole Power and sophomore setter Dylan Zhai who both scooped up three digs of the 10 set total. The defensive stops from both Power and Zhai opened up more offensive opportunities for the front row, creating more scoring scenarios. Sani recorded another five kills to his stat line, which added to Irvine’s comfortable lead. The set and match ended from a Harvard service error, finishing the 3-0 sweep at 25-21.
The Anteaters were excited to capture a win for the home opener at the Bren Events Center.
“You know this is a special place,” head coach David Kniffin said. “I think there were some jitters tonight for some guys coming in. For the first time playing in front of fans in Irvine since March 2020, so pretty special.”
The outcome of this match had many deciding and impacting elements both statistically and personnel-wise that factored into the UCI win.
“I think we were just better at passing and serving tonight,” Kniffin said. “They were pretty good [at] passing, but ultimately we were better [at] serving even with the errors we had, that was the decider.”
Looking ahead into the approaching new season, the young and determined UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team will host a rematch against the Stanford Cardinal at the Bren Events Center on Friday, Jan. 14.
Brian Garcia is a Sports Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. He can be reached at email@example.com.