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Colleges: Anteaters facing steep challenge

January 16, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • [UCI's Scott Kevorkan, Kevin Tillie, Will Thomas, and Jeremy Denjo, defend against BYU's Josue Rivera in game action Friday.] *** []
[UCI's Scott Kevorkan, Kevin Tillie, Will Thomas,… (DON LEACH, unknown )

UC Irvine's Bren Events Center opened 25 years ago this month. The last five years have created few moments when the venue generates enough excitement from the spectators to clearly constitute a home-court advantage.

The men's basketball team's 86-76 win over visiting and Big West-leading Long Beach State on Jan. 22 of 2011 was one such memory, when the students, as well as the generally more sedate older members of the community rose to their feet and emptied their lungs at levels sufficient to move the decibel meter.

In recent years, men's volleyball, with national championships in 2007 and 2009, has helped raise the roof at the Bren, and the weekend meeting between the No. 1-ranked Anteaters and No. 2 BYU figured to provide more goose-bump moments.

BYU had other ideas on Friday, when the Cougars held off a third-game surge by the hosts to close out a 25-20, 25-21, 28-26 sweep in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener in front of 2,741.

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The crowd, it appeared, was just getting into it when BYU survived two set points to bring an abrupt ending that emptied the energy in the building in the time it took to exhale.

Saturday's gathering of 2,889, with, like Friday, plenty of BYU faithful in the house, witnessed a more competitive contest, as BYU prevailed, 25-22, 25-19, 15-25, 20-25, 15-9.

As UCI rallied in the third and fourth sets, and for all of the deciding fifth game, the Bren was at its best, as chants of "U-C-I" and "B-Y-U" pushed the adrenaline levels for players on both teams to plateaus generally reserved for the postseason.

There was the rare feeling of pride from UCI fans, as they exhorted what is generally considered the athletic program on campus that is most successful on the national stage.

The energy level from the "Antourage" student section was also noticeably dialed up in the Anteaters' men's basketball home loss to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday.

Sometimes, all it takes is a core group of vocal rooters to enliven what is notoriously one of the least volatile student rooting sections in Division I athletics.

While the UCI men's volleyball team has 20 regular-season matches remaining, Coach John Speraw was not ambivalent about expressing his disappointment over being swept at home by BYU.

Speraw believes that the Cougars, who are clearly the top team in the nation at this point in the season, can get better as their roster returns to full health at some point in the future.

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