'Eaters' Dejno big cheese vs. UCLA

IRVINE — With literally dozens of lineup configurations and in-match adjustments, UC Irvine men's volleyball coach John Speraw has constantly tinkered, this season, to build a better mousetrap.

But with the Anteaters reeling late in the second set at home Wednesday against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rival UCLA, which had embarrassed UCI Thursday at Pauley Pavilion, it was a freshman from Wisconsin who brought some much-needed cheese.

Just as baseball jargon refers to a rising fastball as high cheddar, 6-foot-4 outside hitter Jeremy Dejno's heaters from the service line and at the net, helped the hosts overcome a 22-19 Game 2 deficit and go on to record a crucial 19-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-15 triumph that clinched a berth in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals.

Dejno, who entered the contest midway through the first game, had four kills and three ace serves in a match-turning Game 2.

Dejno pounded consecutive kills to pull No. 6-ranked UCI (14-11, 10-8 in conference) within 22-20. His vapor-trail kill later pulled UCI even, 23-23, and with the match tied, 24-24, he closed it out with back-to-back jump-serve aces to turn the tide.

"Considering the way UCLA had played so well against us for four and a half games, you begin to wonder if this matchup just isn't really meant for us, you know?" Speraw said. "We just had some great contributions off the bench, with the obvious one being Jeremy Dejno, who just came in and lit it up, service-wise. That really was key for our comeback … his contribution was huge."

Dejno, who had 13 career aces coming in, opened Game 3 with his fourth of five aces in the match. He accounted for half of the 'Eaters' 10 aces, which were seven more than the No. 5-ranked Bruins (15-10, 8-9) produced.

Dejno also had eight kills, hitting .333, with one block assist.

Junior All-American opposite Carson Clark had a match-high 22 kills and hit .450 to help the Anteaters hit .356 as a team. Clark had two aces and two block assists.

Outside hitter Cory Yoder, one of four UCI players honored on senior night, had nine kills and hit .400.

Senior setter Anthony Spittle had 40 assists and six digs for UCI.

Speraw also credited contributions off the bench from senior middle blocker Kevin Wynne (one kill, one block assist and four digs), and sophomore libero Will Thomas (a team-best seven digs) with helping provide a shift for the winners.

"[Wynne, an All-American on the 2009 NCAA championship team who has struggled to find playing time this season] came in and made some plays, some great defensive plays," Speraw said. "And [Thomas] came in and played for the first time all season and did an excellent job.

"We got some nice energy from Dejno's big-time swings, which fired everybody up," Speraw said. "Aces get the [crowd of 1,273] going. And Thomas brings a certain energy to his game. Sometimes this team needs that and he's the perfect guy off the bench to do that for us."

Clark, among those stung by the three-game loss at UCLA last week, agreed.

"We had some guys come off the bench and bring some great fire," Clark said. "Once we got a little momentum, we knew that they were worried about us and we kind of just caught fire and we went off on it."

With four regular-season conference matches left, all on the road, Speraw said his team could wind up anywhere from fourth to eighth in the MPSF Tournament seeding.

A top-four finish would mean a home match in the quarterfinals. Anything less would put UCI on the road for the quarterfinals.

"We're going to surprise people in the playoffs," Clark said. "We've been figuring out stuff the entire season. People are figuring out roles and its becoming kind of a wild-fire team. Right now, we have the confidence we needed to take with us on the road. To have those [rooters] show confidence in us is unbelievable. It's huge."

Junior opposite Kyle Caldwell, a Newport Harbor High product, led the Bruins, who saw their seven-match win streak halted, with 12 kills. He also had one ace.

Junior middle blocker Weston Dunlap, named American Volleyball Coaches Assn. National Player of the Week on Monday and who came in leading the MPSF with a .488 hitting percentage, had seven kills and hit .286.

Both teams had 20 service errors and UCI won team blocking battle, 5.5 to four.

UCI returns to action Friday at UC Santa Barbara, then visits Long Beach State on April 6. UCSB entered the week fifth in the MPSF, while Long Beach State was in fourth place entering Wednesday's matches.

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