No. 8 USC Men's Volleyball Falls In 5 Sets To No. 2 UC Irvine In MPSF Semis

    April 30, 2015

    Final Stats

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    Zack La Cavera, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year, had 25 kills and 13 digs to lead the No. 2-ranked UC Irvine men's volleyball team to a wild 22-25, 25-17, 25-23, 16-25, 15-11 win over No. 8 USC in an MPSF Tournament semifinal match on Thursday (April 30) in front of 2,835 fans at UCI's Bren Center.

    It was the fifth consecutive 5-set match that the teams have played against each other, dating to last season. All 3 meetings in 2015 went 5 sets.

    UC Irvine, the tourney's top seed, improved to 27-4 overall while winning its ninth straight match (and the 18th of its past 19). The Anteaters had split a pair of matches against the Trojans earlier this season, with the loss coming in Irvine.

    USC, the tourney's No. 4 seed, ended its season with a 19-9 overall record. Coming into the night, the Trojans had won 8 of their last 9 matches and 10 of their past 13. USC is now 8-3 in 5-set matches this year (a school record for 5-set matches and 5-set wins in a season).

    UCI now advances to the MPSF final match at home at 7 p.m. on Friday (May 1) against No. 5 Pepperdine, the tourney's third seed. The Waves defeated No. 3 Hawaii, 21-25, 25-22, 26-24, 25-16, in the other semifinal match.

    UC Irvine outhit USC, .257 to .222, and had more digs (54 to 42), but USC had the advantage in blocks (9.0 to 6.0).

    Alex Slaught and Andy Benesh each had 11 kills for USC, with Benesh hitting .625 and adding 7 blocks. Larry Tuileta and Cristian Rivera each had 8 kills, with Tuileta also getting 9 digs.

    Tamir Hershko added 15 kills for UCI, while Jason Agopian had 9 kills and Andrew Benz had 8 kills (hitting .583) and 5 blocks. Michael Brinkley had 19 digs.

    In the opening set, USC fought back from a 15-12 deficit by tying it at 16-16, but UCI later went up 21-19, only to see the Trojans score 6 of the final 7 points. Troy hit .324 (to UCI's .176) and posted 3.0 blocks, but had 9 serving errors in the set.

    The Anteaters jumped out to a quick 6-3 lead in the second set and steadily extended it to 15-9, 20-12 and 23-13. UCI hit .481 as the Trojans were at just .130 and had just 3 digs.

    USC used a 3-0 run in the third set to build a 16-13 lead, but UCI tied it at 17-17 and then went ahead 19-18 before USC scored 2 straight points to recapture the lead at 20-19. Troy then went up 23-21, but the Anteaters scored the set's final 4 points.

    In the fourth set, USC jumped out to a 4-1 lead, upped it to 11-6, 14-8 and 18-10 and easily closed out the set. The Trojans hit .375 (UCI was at .138).

    USC scored the first 3 points of the final set and Troy held a 6-3 lead before UCI went on a 4-0 run to go up 7-6, then the Anteaters went on a 3-0 run to build a 10-7 lead and the Trojans couldn't catch up as UCI hit .500 to USC's .143 in the set.

    USC's post-match comments:

    Head coach Bill Ferguson--"At the end of the day, Irvine was better than us. But I'm so proud of my team. No other team I've had has had the heart or has generated the respect this team has. They never give up, they fight like heck, they fight on every day."

    Middle blocker Robert Feathers--"We fought with everything we had and we played with a lot of heart. We are comfortable in game five, it's where we like to be. We've done well in five sets the entire year. Unfortunately, it didn't work out this match. It came down to execution. It was a heck of a year for us. Irvine played a great match."

    Setter Micah Christenson--"Congratulations to Irvine. It was a high level match. It could have gone either way. I'm really proud to say we have no regrets in anything we did tonight or this season. We gave it everything we had. Unfortunately we ended up losing, but I'm so proud and privileged to be part of this team...I'm very satisfied with this season. I didn't think I'd be this peaceful at the end. We lost to a good team. Volleyball-wise, it's not the fairy tale ending, but I'm very proud and happy with how our team battled."

    Libero Brooks Varni: "It was a tough match. My hat's off to Irvine. They played a heck of a match. They're a great team. We fought well. A few points didn't go our way. I'm proud to be a part of this team."

    Middle blocker Chris Lischke: "What was satisfying is we brought out the best in UC Irvine. Someone had to lose. They were the better team today. They executed. On another day, it could have been a different outcome."