The UC Irvine men’s volleyball team (3-1) staged 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 (25-23, 25-23) game. 25-17, 23-25, 25-22). With this astonishing win, the fledgling Anteater squad has proven to be a dangerous force in the NCAA.
Both teams started the first set strong. At 7-5, Cole Gillis, Irvine’s redshirt, sophomore winger, took over and began his three-point service run, bombing the service at the Cardinal and giving the Anteaters an early lead. Despite this, Stanford began to work their way back from the backlog by applying their own service pressure and quick transitions — a strategy they repeated throughout the game.
Still, freshman Anteater excluding batter Hilir Henno ended their run with a huge tool off the block, returning the momentum to the UC Irvine squad. After repeated runs from both teams, the Anteaters closed the set with a sneaky tool from sophomore batter Francesco Sani, ending the set 25-23.
Heading into the second set, the ‘Eaters’ took to the field with tremendous fire and energy after their first set victory. They had only a small lead over the Cardinal for most of the first half until Irvine redshirt sophomore wing batter Doug Dahm secured a quick sideout from the middle at 12-10, unleashing another dizzying run from the Anteaters.
Dahm extended ‘Eater”s lead to five points with his own service run. After both sides exchanged sideouts, Sani got behind the service line and added two more points to the already huge lead. Buoyed by heavy service pressure from the Anteaters, the Irvine team finished the set with a massive block from sophomore center blocker Connor Campbell, giving them a 2-0 advantage.
UCI rode high in the third set after their previous consecutive wins. In the beginning, kills by Sani and Gills, plus a few offense errors by Stanford, put UCI in a 10-5 tie. The game ended at 18-18 on four consecutive Cardinal runs and an ace that went through the tape and fell just over the net.
The rest of the set was a back-and-forth dogfight. Stanford took the lead in the first set on an unforced error by Sani who went wide to give Stanford the lead, 22-21. UCI refused to give up the game and caused 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 25-23.
The fourth and final set followed a similar trend, with both teams deadlocked. UCI crawled to an early 10-9 lead, followed by five unanswered runs, taking the lead to 15-9.
Despite this, three errors by the ‘Eaters allowed Stanford back into the game, making the score 15-12. A huge block from Dahm halted the Stanford run and put the lead in the hands of Anteater at 18-13. Just as the Irvine team began to take their foot off the throttle, the Cardinal crawled back again. Stanford scored five of the next six runs, making the score 19-18 in favor of the Eaters.
Shockingly, Stanford’s consistency and ball control were enough to overtake the UCI and set the game at 21. UCI took advantage of a Cardinal service foul followed by an ace from Sani to give them the lead by two. A kill by Stanford would cut the deficit back to one; However, UCI scored the last two points of the match by winning the set 25-22 and the match 3-1.
UCI head coach David Kniffin had some reservations after the game.
“Our four passers-by were able to control the ball with confidence tonight. That confidence spilled over into our freedom from the service line and the freedom to take some risks in defense and even our freedom to make some big swings in the transition,” Kniffin said.
UCI returns to action when they travel to BYU next Friday, January 21 and Saturday, January 22 to defeat the Cougars at Smith Fieldhouse in Provo, Utah.
James Huston is a sports personnel writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Brian Garcia is a sports intern for the winter of 2022. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org