Men's Volleyball: 'Eaters outlast Bruins

LOS ANGELES — John Speraw may have taken his talents to Westwood, but the balance of power, at least for now, remains at his former UC Irvine home.

For the second time this season, the Anteaters, who Speraw led to three NCAA titles in a 10-season tenure that ended when he returned to his alma mater in the recent off-season, topped the Bruins in five games.

This time, the 25-19, 22-25, 20-25, 25-20, 15-11 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball triumph came at Pauley Pavilion.

UCI had previously topped UCLA in five sets at a season-opening tournament in Santa Barbara.

"It's so fun to be the mid-major and come in and win against a school that has every resource available to it," said UCI Coach David Kniffin, who was part of two of UCI's NCAA titles as an assistant to Speraw. "When it comes down to it, it's decided by who can execute within the confines of points."

The Anteaters (7-3, 4-2 in the MPSF), to some degree, saved their best for last. They hit .500 on 14 swings in the fifth game, had three blocks for points, and allowed the Bruins (6-4, 3-4) to make all four service errors in the set. UCI also was successful on all 11 of its sideout opportunities.

UCLA missed 19 serves in the match, including match point, when junior middle blocker Spencer Rowe was called for a foot fault, while launching a serve well beyond the opposing end line. The Bruins had only one ace.

UCI had five aces and 12 service errors, with junior middle blocker Collin Mehring floating four aces, two of which crawled over the tape to land on the UCLA side.

Sophomore Michael Brinkley may have been the brightest shining star for the winners. The 5-foot-10 libero had a career-best 20 digs and added three assists to help UCI post a 53-49 advantage in digs.

Senior Kevin Tillie, a returning All-American outside hitter, had a team-best 17 kills and hit .325 for UCI. Tillie, who used a full repertoire of power and finesse while attacking at the net, also chipped in seven digs, one solo block and three block assists.

Sophomore opposite Zack La Cavera had 15 kills, including three critical swings for points in the decisive set. He finished hitting .306, while adding eight digs and two block assists.

Mehring led the 'Eaters with four block assists and his nine kills came on 11 swings (a .727 clip).

Junior setter Daniel Stork, who replaced starter Chris Austin in the third set with UCI trailing, 14-9, finished with 24 assists, six fewer than Austin. But Kniffin said shifting to Stork was clearly beneficial.

UCI, which improved to 3-1 in five-game matches this season (UCLA is now 5-3), never trailed in the fifth set. After the two teams traded points through 7-7, two La Cavera kills gave the visitors a 9-7 cushion and UCLA was behind to the end.

"I think it just felt like we were more composed mentally for the match, from the outset and in all the pressure situations," Kniffin said. "I looked on the court and I thought we were the more confident team."

Brinkley, whose previous career-high was 16 digs earlier this season against UCLA, said there may be some extra motivation when playing the Bruins.

"Maybe I just like playing against UCLA and my old coach," said Brinkley, who was singled out by Kniffin.

"He's just a joy to watch," Kniffin said of his second-year starter. "That kid makes everybody around him better. Even beyond his [dig] numbers, so much of what he does in not quantifiable. He runs the defense for us."

UCI hit .313 for the match, 23 points better than the Bruins, who received 63 assists from junior setter Connor Bannan, a Corona del Mar High product.

UCI also held the edge in team blocks, 9.5 to 7.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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