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