College men's volleyball: 'Eaters brimming with confidence

Steve Virgen

CRAWFORD HALL - Attention fans of UC Irvine sports, UCI's men's

volleyball coach Charlie Brande has a message for you: The Anteaters are

good, the best in the school's history.

The Anteaters (2-1) started to show their coach's belief in the final

day of he UCI/Wyndham West Coast Challenge, posting an emotional

five-game victory over Pepperdine and a steady four-game win over USC

Saturday at Crawford Hall.

"I feel this is the best team we've had since I've been here and in

the school's history," said Brande, who is in his sixth year with the

Anteaters. "What I'm hoping for is that a lot of the fans will see that

we are good. This is a good start. It's only the beginning. (The West

Coast Challenge) gives us a barometer of what we need to do in order to

become one of the top teams."

Brande is not the only one exuding confidence. UCI junior setter

Jarett Jensen, who led the Anteaters with 52 assists against USC, also

believes the team has huge potential, especially after Saturday.

"Last year, we had upsets," Jensen said of the Anteaters' three big

wins over USC, Pepperdine and Stanford last year. "This year, we're not

going to consider those upsets. We expect to be a better team. It's to

our advantage to keep building on what we did last year. It's an endless

possibility. We can take the NCAA championship. We have that caliber of a

team, full of confidence."

Despite dropping a three-game decision to UCLA Friday, the Anteaters

entered Saturday's opening match against Pepperdine with tons of

confidence. UCI senior Erick Helenihi, who compiled 49 kills in the two

matches, guided the Anteaters to the 24-30, 33-31, 30-28, 21-30, 22-20

victory over the Waves.

In Game 5, the teams exchanged points until sophomore Jimmy Pelzel (16

kills and seven digs) slammed a kill to put UCI up 21-20. Anteaters

sophomore Russ Marchewka ended the match with an uncontested kill. Kyle

Weichert, a 6-foot-6 sophomore middle blocker for UCI, and junior outside

hitter Monte Tucker added 12 kills each. In addition, sophomore setter

David Kniffin recorded a career-high 70 assists to key the huge victory,

which proved to be a bit of an unfortunate repeat for the Waves. UCI

defeated Pepperdine in five games in Malibu March 17, the last time the

two teams met before Saturday.

"We won six deuce games, three against Pepperdine and three against

USC," Brande said. "To win six deuce games in a day is an indication of

our heart and our competitiveness. And it came against two teams like

Pepperdine and USC.

"After beating Pepperdine it would have been easy to let down," he

continued. "But we had to step it up against USC."

The Anteaters did, in fact, intensify their efforts against the

Trojans (0-3), answering a first-game loss to score the 27-30, 31-29,

31-29, 31-29 win. UCI earned its biggest lead of Game 2 at 15-9, after

Helenihi and Marchewka teamed for a block that capped a 4-0 run,

prompting a Trojans' timeout.

However, USC eventually caught UCI, 28-28, to make for an interesting

ending. But, as they did in Games 3 and 4, the Anteaters came up in the

clutch. Pelzel (16 kills) skied for a kill off an assist from Jensen for

a 30-29 lead and senior Brenden Watumull ended the game with a solo kill.

Watumull also ended Game 3 after Helenihi came up with a kill for a 30-29

lead.

In Game 4, the Anteaters earned the biggest lead of the match, 27-20,

after Jensen spiked a service ace. But the Trojans retaliated with a 6-0

run and eventually caught UCI at 28-28.

Pelzel recorded a kill for a 30-29 lead and, fittingly, Helenihi ended

the match with a kill from a Jensen assist.

Marchewka hit a school record .923 (12 kills out of 13 attempts with no errors) in the match.

"This team is as physical as anybody and we'll be very competitive,"

Brande said.

The Anteaters return to action Friday at 7 p.m., playing at UC Santa

Barbara.

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