No. 1 UCI upended by BYU


IRVINE — UC Irvine men’s volleyball Coach John Speraw theorized that being elevated one spot this week to the No. 1 national ranking may have gone to his players’ heads.

No. 2-ranked BYU, apparently miffed at losing its top spot, definitely took it to the host Anteaters’ chin on Saturday with a 25-20, 25-21, 28-26 sweep that should give UCI what Speraw called some much-needed humility.

“I think it was good for us,” Speraw said of the loss, in front of a charged-up crowd of 2,741 that was just starting to bring the noise in a dramatic third game. “Because I think we felt pretty good about ourselves and I don’t think we should feel that good about ourselves.”

UCI (4-1), which defeated BYU in four games on Dec. 6 at the UC Santa Barbara Invitational, was thoroughly outplayed by the Cougars in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener for both at Bren Events Center.

BYU (3-1, 1-0 in conference) hit .494 as a team, had 48 kills to UCI’s 38 and posted an 8-5 advantage in team blocks.

The Cougars hit .720 as a team in the first game and .464 in Game 3, when they survived two set points to prevail. Sophomore All-American outside hitter Taylor Sander had 17 kills and hit .727 (one error in 22 total swings), while senior opposite Robb Stowell, who played for Speraw at the Balboa Bay Club program, added 14 kills and hit .417. Sander added three aces.

Quentin Smith, a senior middle blocker, had eight kills in nine swings (.889) as BYU pounded kills and spotted tips, roll shots and off-speed offerings to confound the UCI defense.

UCI (4-1, 0-1) was led by senior All-American opposite Carson Clark (11 kills) and sophomore outside hitter Jeremy Denjo (11 kills and a .429 hitting percentage). Clark added two aces — on his first two serves — to pass Jayson Jablonsky and land atop the school’s all-time aces list with 129.

Clark added a team-best eight digs, sophomore setter Daniel Stork had 36 assists, and junior Kevin Tillie, a heralded transfer from Canada, had four kills and hit .300 after being inserted late in the second game.

The two teams will play again Saturday at 7 p.m. at the same venue and Speraw said he is looking forward to getting a chance to fix his team’s laundry list of correctable errors.

“I didn’t think anything we did tonight was that great,” Speraw said. “Nothing stands out to me as it relates to us doing anything particularly well. We started passing in Game 1, but it kind of fell apart there. We didn’t serve great and we certainly didn’t block or dig well. Our offense clearly has potential to be good. Even as poorly as we played tonight, we hit .329, which should beat most teams in the United States. But when you don’t defend and serve like we need to serve in order to be successful, you allow a team to hit .494 and that’s rough.”

Speraw said he was displeased that his team could not pull out Game 3 and extend the match.

“I have to admit I was really hoping, for the great fan support that we got, we’d at least be able to push it to four [sets] and give [the fans] a thrill,” Speraw said.

“It was a great environment and I loved that everyone came out,” Speraw said. “I’m sorry that we weren’t able to provide them with a better match. But we’re going to learn from it.”