Carroll's focus helps 'Eaters sweep

IRVINE — UC Irvine outside hitter Kevin Carroll said he is looking forward to his senior season with the Anteaters. This, he believes, will keep him from looking backward, as in over his shoulder at the waiting line of talent waiting to take his starting position.

So far so good for the 6-foot-4 senior, whose team-best 11 kills helped the Anteaters handle visiting Cal Baptist, 25-20, 25-18, 25-21, in their nonconference season opener Wednesday at Crawford Court.

Carroll, who has struggled to find consistent playing time in three previous seasons, said there is more emphasis on playing well this season than simply playing well enough to remain on the floor.

"We have an extremely deep bench, probably the deepest in the country," Carroll said the 'Eaters, who were picked to finish second in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation preseason poll. "I'm trying not to worry about making mistakes and just trying to go out there and have fun. I just want to be free. In the past, I feel I have worried too much about making mistakes and being taken out. I can't be worried about being subbed out."

Carroll hit .304 for the match and was one of three Anteaters with two ace serves.

UCI had seven aces in the match, to go with 15 service errors. The latter stat is one Coach John Speraw hopes to clean up.

"I thought we were sloppy, sloppy," said Speraw, who also mentioned transition struggles and a setting rhythm with returning senior All-American opposite Carson Clark (eight kills and a .161 hitting percentage) as areas of concern.

"I think we served pretty well tonight, but the stat I'm looking most closely at is our error percentage," Speraw said. "I just don't know that, against good teams, we can serve the ball out as much as we do and win. Also, we're not hitting the ball super hard. We're a long way from where we want to be."

Sophomore Jeremy Dejno boomed two aces, but missed three serves, while Clark had one ace and five service errors. Senior middle blocker Austin D'Amore had two aces and shared team-high honors with three block assists.

Dejno chipped in eight kills with one solo block and two block assists, while senior middle blocker Dan McDonnell had four kills and three block assists.

Sophomore setter Daniel Stork had 34 assists and a team-best 11 digs, while junior libero Will Thomas had nine digs for the winners, who avenged a season-opening loss to the Lancers last season.

The Anteaters, who split two exhibition matches last week, played without heralded junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie, a native of France who played the last two seasons in Canada before following his dream to play in the NCAA. Tillie is recovering from a sprained ankle and warmed up, but did not play.

But sophomore Connor Hughes showed some of that enviable depth of which Carroll spoke. Hughes entered the lineup in the third game and banged three kills on six swings without an error (a .500 clip).

UCI rallied from deficits of 3-1, 10-8 and 13-11 in the opening game. UCI pulled even at 14-14, then scored four straight to establish command.

Cal Baptist led, 3-2, in the second game, before UCI turned things around and cruised.

UCI trailed only 1-0 in the final game before gaining some momentum heading into the Elephant Bar Tournament Friday and Saturday at UC Santa Barbara.

"It's a good win and its nice to redeem ourselves after losing to [the Lancers] last year," said Carroll, who closed out the match with an ace. "I thought we played decently, but we could have done a lot of things better."

"[Carroll] had a good night," Speraw said.

It was the kind of performance that keeps Carroll in position to have a few more good nights in 2012.

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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