The band played, Peter pumped his fists and Anteaters of all stripes turned out Tuesday at noon to celebrate UC Irvine’s 2012 NCAA championship in men’s volleyball – its third in six years.
Players and coach John Speraw were on hand to autograph t-shirts and UCI Chancellor Michael Drake talked about the qualities of leadership and character exemplified by players and coaches who persevered through a tough season to come out on top with a 3-0 sweep Saturday over No. 2 seed USC in the NCAA Championship match at the Galen Center.
“Everyone will see it was 3-0 but everyone knows how close it really was all the way through,” coach John Speraw said. “We didn’t get rattled and stayed very poised when we were down big in the second set. It was a tight emotional first game and we took a breath there. I think when we won that second game it was real tough for them. It’s hard when you have a lead and then you’re down 0-2.”
Senior All-American Carson Clark had a match-high 22 kills, hitting .465, and added eight digs and three service aces as UCI (26-5) topped the Trojans for the second time in nine days. The Anteaters had rallied from a 0-2 deficit to defeat USC in an MPSF semifinal match at the Galen Center April 26. Clark was named the NCAA Most Outstanding Player and also had three aces and eight digs.
Junior setter Chris Austin had a career-high 15 digs to go with 48 set assists. Sophomore outside hitter Connor Hughes added 13 kills, while junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie had 11 kills and eight digs. Middle blocker Scott Kevorken totaled six kills, while Dan McDonnell recorded five kills and two aces. Libero Michael Brinkley tallied eight digs.
Austin, Tillie and Hughes were named to the All-Tournament team.
Tony Ciarelli paced USC with 18 kills followed by Tanner Jansen with 10.
UCI opened a 14-10 lead in the first set on an ace by Carson Clark and a block by Scott Kevorken and Chris Austin. The lead was short lived as Tony Ciarelli’s tough serving led the Trojans back to a 14-13 margin. The Anteaters held a 19-16 lead but USC went on a 4-1 run to tie the set at 20-20. Four consecutive kills by Clark, Kevin Tillie, Chris Austin and Kevorken put UCI ahead 24-20. Ciarelli once again stepped back to serve and the Trojans to 24-22. A kill by Clark ended the set
25-22. Connor Hughes led the Anteaters with six kills.
USC scored four unanswered to take a 9-4 lead in the second set and held a 15-8 margin before UCI went on an 8-2 spurt to narrow the margin to 17-16. A service error stopped the rally, but kills by McDonnell, Hughes and Clark gave the Anteaters the 19-18 advantage. Another Anteater service error plus a Trojan kill helped USC regain the lead, 20-19. Teams would trade points until they were deadlocked at 31-3. A Clark kill was followed by a Trojan service error to give UCI set point, 33-32. Clark pounded a kill to end the marathon, 34-32.
A kill by Hughes, a Trojan attack error and an ace by Clark gave the Anteaters the 12-8 advantage in the third set. The Anteaters could not hold on to the lead as USC would tie the set at 19-19. The Trojans would score two straight to go on top 21-20. The teams would battle back and forth until McDonnell had a solo block and Clark put away his kill to give the Anteaters match point 25-24. USC called timeout before Dan McDonnell stepped back and fired an ace for the victory.