Dejno powers 'Eaters

IRVINE — Go big or go home sounds good in principle, but it's not always the most effective course of action on the volleyball court.

UC Irvine sophomore outside hitter Jeremy Dejno is still a firm believer in the aggressive mentality that allows him to continually hit the ball as hard as he can. Whether the solidly built 6-foot-4 Wisconsin native is at the service line or soaring skyward at the net, it's his intention to bang with abandon.

That approach was largely effective Wednesday night, as Dejno boomed five aces and a team-best 15 kills to pace the No. 2-ranked Anteaters' 25-20, 21-25, 25-21, 25-21 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation victory over No. 6-ranked Pepperdine at the Bren Events Center.

Dejno did have seven of his team's 22 service errors, in effect allowing the Waves (5-2, 4-1 in conference) to tally one-quarter of their points by merely standing and watching. He also had seven hitting errors, which dropped his hitting percentage to .267 for the match.

But it was Dejno's imposing power that turned nearly two dozen of his supersonic serves into either points or opportunities to exploit some shaky service returns.

"I'd like the ratio to be five to zero," UCI Coach John Speraw said of Dejno's aces to service errors. "On some of those errors, he probably should not have been swinging as hard as he can. But he's only got one speed, sometimes. Jeremy has potential to be a lights-out server. He hasn't gotten there yet, but tonight he showed flashes of it. Honestly, Jeremy's 75% serve can still score a lot of points. I'd like him to recognize that better."

It took Speraw's discerning eye to spot things he wished his team did better against the Waves, as the Anteaters won nearly every statistical category to drop the Waves from a first-place tie with top-ranked BYU.

Speraw praised the play of junior Kevin Tillie, middle blockers Dan McDonnell, Scott Kevorken and Austin D'Amore, freshman libero Michael Brinkley and sophomore setter Daniel Stork.

Tillie, making his first start, had 13 kills with a .478 hitting percentage. His six kills on eight swings in the first set helped set the tone for the hosts (6-2, 3-2).

McDonnell (nine kills at a .615 clip with one solo block and four block assists), Kevorken (eight kills with a .636 hitting percentage) and D'Amore (three kills on five swings with no errors) helped provide balance to opposites Carson Clark (nine kills) and Zack La Cavera (six kills and two block assists).

Stork, who Speraw said continues to progress nicely in his first season as the full-time starter, had 54 assists.

Brinkley had a team-best 11 digs to lead the team in that category for the second straight match.

Dejno, who leads the team in kills this season, said he is relishing his increased role, especially after missing two months of offseason training when he broke his collarbone surfing.

Speraw said Dejno's work ethic rivals the ferocity of the pace he puts on the ball.

"He is an absolute workhorse," Speraw said of Dejno. "He's been all over his diet and he watches video and he's completely committed to becoming the best player he can be. So, I think he's as far along as Jeremy Dejno can be at this point."

The Anteaters, who hit .365 as a team, 39 points better than the Waves, will play host to No. 5-ranked USC, a heated rival, on Friday at 7 p.m.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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