IRVINE — It speaks to the madness of March that UC Irvine junior Dan McDonnell could play arguably the best match of his career, in his first significant action in six weeks, and still end the evening on a very real note of disappointment.
McDonnell, a middle blocker who started and starred in host UC Irvine's 25-20, 25-22, 25-18 nonconference sweep of No. 3-ranked Ohio State on Saturday night at Crawford Court, discovered in the locker room afterward that Arizona, the school at which he began his collegiate career and for which he obviously still holds affection, was defeated by Connecticut in the men's basketball West Regional final at Honda Center.
Ohio State, of course, knows of such disappointment, as the men's volleyball team, as well as about four-dozen scarlet-and-gray-clad rooters on hand Saturday, lamented the NCAA basketball tournament exit of the Buckeyes, the top overall seed, courtesy of a 62-60 loss in the East Regional semifinal against Kentucky on Friday.
The Anteaters were rebounding from some disappointment of their own in the form of what McDonnell called an embarrassing three-game loss at UCLA on Thursday. UCI Coach John Speraw said UCLA's trouncing of his team marked the worst match in years for a UCI program that won NCAA titles in 2007 and 2009 and went to the Final Four in 2006.
The ultimate disappointment, however, was experienced by Coach Pete Hanson's Buckeyes (17-4), who came to California with a 17-match winning streak, only to drop two straight, including a four-set setback Friday at UC San Diego.
The 6-foot-6 McDonnell, who hails from Glendale, Ariz., had a team-high six block assists to help the No. 5-ranked hosts (13-11) post a 12.5 to six advantage in total blocks.
McDonnell also had seven kills with only one error in 14 attempts for a .429 hitting percentage.
"[McDonnell] came in and got a couple nice read stuffs," Speraw said. "He's a physical guy who is really good at hitting. He just needed to improve his read blocking. That's why he's on the court right now."
A lineup shakeup is not atypical for Speraw following a disappointing loss. Speraw also started freshman John Caroompas at libero Saturday in place of sophomore Will Montgomery, who started at UCLA.
"We have so much depth, I think every practice is an opportunity [to work one's way into the starting lineup]," McDonnell said. "[Friday's] practice after UCLA was full of energy and that definitely helped us and fired us up even more. I did think we were embarrassed [at UCLA] and I think we took it pretty personally. I know I did. We just used it as motivation for tonight."
Six Anteaters had at least two block assists and senior Cory Yoder had a match-high 14 kills. Yoder led the 'Eaters with a .560 hitting percentage to help UCI hit .356 as a team, 94 points better than Ohio State.
UCI also had six aces and 13 service errors, while Ohio State had two aces.
"I thought we served a lot tougher," Speraw said. "I think our serve gave us a lot of scoring opportunities."
Junior opposite Carson Clark blasted four aces to help UCI keep a formidable Ohio State defense on its heels.
UCI never trailed and led by as many as six in the opening game.
The 'Eaters overcame several deficits, most notably a 21-18 Buckeyes' advantage, to claim Game 2.
Clark pounded three straight kills, including one through three blockers, to knot Game 2 at 21-21.
After a timeout, Clark (four block assists), McDonnell and senior outside hitter Jordan DuFault (four block assists) combined for a stuff block.
Two kills by Clark, an All-American, later put UCI up, 24-22 and a hitting error by the visitors closed out the game.
UCI opened a 10-3 lead in the final set to cruise to the win. The last three UCI wins have been sweeps and Speraw's squad has won seven of its last 10.
The win over a team ranked higher will not impact the postseason hopes of UCI, which will need to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament to earn a trip to the Final Four at Penn State.
"It doesn't mean anything other than coming back and playing better volleyball after losing to UCLA," Speraw said.
Freshman middle blocker Scott Kevorken (seven kills to hit .500 while chipping in three block assists and one ace) also earned praise from Speraw.
Senior setter Anthony Spittle had 34 assists for the winners.
UCI plays host to UCLA on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Anteaters' final home match of the season.