For UCLA men’s volleyball, it was win out or go home. But in the end, the team returned to Westwood for the rest of the year.
In a close four-set match, the No. 6 Buins (17-10, 10-8 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) fell to the No. 5 UC Irvine Anteaters (20-6, 13-5) in the MPSF tournament quarterfinals by set scores of 25-23, 23-25, 21-25, 22-25.
After a season full of injuries to most of its starting rotation and the subsequent experimentation with various types of systems, UCLA just couldn’t pull it off in the end.
“We just didn’t have any offensive continuity because of all the injuries and change of systems, we just never got going,” said coach John Speraw. “The last time we put our projected starters on the court was Jan. 8, and I feel like it just wasn’t meant to be this year – sometimes that’s sports.”
Sets one and two were near mirror images of each other. Both were point-for-point affairs with UC Irvine jumping out ahead in the first set, only to see UCLA sweep the win up at the very end of the first, and vice versa in the second set.
However, it was the third set that swung the momentum.
Prior to the third, the Bruins out-hit the Anteaters .327 to .277, out-blocked them 4.5 to 3 and out-served them two aces to none.
But after the third set, UCLA’s total hitting percentage fell to a .262 against a UCI’s total .338, and the Bruins slowed down from the front line, six blocks to seven, respectively.
And over the third and fourth sets combined, the Anteaters outhit the Bruins .462 to .189.
“We were never down on ourselves, we were really trying to overcome,” said junior opposite Christian Hessenauer. “But as far as being at an optimal level, I don’t know if we ever reached that.”
On the night, junior outside hitter Jake Arnitz led the Bruins with 18 kills – the only UCLA athlete with double digit kills.
Following close behind was redshirt junior outside hitter Eric Sprague with nine kills and a .727 hitting percentage.
Setter/opposites sophomore Micah Ma’a and senior Hagen Smith had productive assist nights with 31 and 18, respectively.
Speraw made the decision to only play two of his main seniors, Smith and middle blocker Mitch Stahl, for three sets apiece rather than all four.
Neither was having a terrific night, especially Stahl, who finished the game with one kill, so Speraw said he just wanted to get the best offense he could out there. At the same time, he said he regretted that he had to bench the seniors in what would be their last game.
On the Anteater side of the net, three players notched double-digit kills. Outside hitter Aaron Koubi led the game with 19 while their season’s top-scorer opposite Tamir Hershko swung for 12 and outside hitter Thomas Hodges piled on 10 of his own.
With the loss, UCLA will now fall out of the MPSF tournament, losing the possibility of making it to the NCAA Tournament, and will have to wait until next year to go at it all again.
“The guys are so great, they’ve worked very very hard throughout the whole season,” Sprague said. “It’s sad to see it end like this, but I’m glad I gave it my all at the very end.”