Photo provided by UCI Athletics

The UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team (3-1) hosted a rematch against the Stanford Cardinal (3-1) at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 14, avenging their loss from last weekend in a nail-biting four set match (25-23, 25-17, 23-25, 25-22). With this astonishing victory, the young Anteater squad has proven to be a dangerous force in the NCAA. 

Both teams started off strong in the first set. At 7-5,  Irvine redshirt sophomore outside hitter Cole Gillis took the wheel and began his three-point service run, bombing serves at the Cardinal and giving the Anteaters an early lead. In spite of that, Stanford began clawing their way back from the deficit by applying their own service pressure and quick transition plays — a strategy they repeated throughout the entire match. 

Still, Anteater freshman outside hitter Hilir Henno ended their run with a massive tool off the block, giving back the momentum to the UC Irvine squad. After recurring runs by both teams, the Anteaters finished the set with a sneaky tool off the block by sophomore outside hitter Francesco Sani, ending the set at 25-23. 

Heading into the second set, the ‘Eaters came onto the court with tremendous fire and energy from their first set win. They had only a slight lead over the Cardinal for much of the first half until Irvine redshirt sophomore outside hitter Doug Dahm secured a quick sideout from the middle at 12-10, igniting another staggering run by the Anteaters.  

Dahm with his own service run extended the ‘Eater lead to five points. After both sides exchanged sideouts, Sani got behind the service line and added an additional two points to the already gigantic lead. Backed with heavy service pressure from the Anteaters, the Irvine team ended the set with a massive block from sophomore middle blocker Connor Campbell, giving them a 2-0 advantage. 

UCI rode high into the third set after their previous back-to-back wins. Early on, kills by Sani and Gills, plus a pair of Stanford attack errors, gave UCI a 10-5 cushion. The game tied up at 18-18 after four consecutive Cardinal points and an ace that powered through the tape, falling just over the net. 

The remainder of the set was a back-and-forth dog fight. Stanford took their first set lead after an unforced error by Sani that went wide right, putting Stanford ahead, 22-21. Refusing to give up the game just yet, UCI secured a kill by Henno and a block by Campbell. Still, the Eaters were unable to hold off the Cardinal after a service error by Henno that gave Stanford the set win at 25-23.

The fourth and final set followed a similar trend, both teams at a deadlock. UCI creeped out to an early 10-9 lead, followed by five unanswered points, increasing their lead to 15-9. 

Nevertheless, three errors by the ‘Eaters let Stanford back in the match, making the score 15-12.  A huge block by Dahm shut down the Stanford run and put the lead in Anteater hands at 18-13. Just as the Irvine team began to take their foot off the gas, the Cardinal crawled back yet again. Stanford scored five of the next six points, making the score 19-18 in favor of the ‘Eaters. 

Shockingly, Stanford’s consistency and ball control was enough to catch up to UCI, tying the match at 21. UCI capitalized off a Cardinal service error followed by an ace by Sani to put them ahead by two. A kill by Stanford would cut the deficit again down to one; however, UCI scored the final two points of the match winning the set 25-22 and the match 3-1.

UCI head coach David Kniffin had some thoughts after the game. 

“Our four passers were able to control the ball with confidence tonight. That confidence came across in our freedom from the service line and the freedom to take some chances on defense and even our freedom to take some big swings in transition,” Kniffin said.

UCI will be back in action as they travel to BYU to take on the Cougars at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah next Friday, Jan. 21 and Saturday, Jan. 22.

James Huston is a Sports Staff Writer. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.

Brian Garcia is a Sports Intern for the winter 2022 quarter. He can be reached at briang7@uci.edu