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'Eaters falter at USC

Men's Volleyball

UCI surrenders inside track on regular-season conference title and now must right itself if it is to mount a charge for NCAA crown.

April 07, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

LOS ANGELES — Invariably, in the exceptionally competitive men's volleyball environment of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, there will come a time when Plan B comes prominently into play.

Call it having something to fall back on.

UC Irvine has been dealing with Plan B for the better part of six weeks. But it finally came back to haunt the No. 2-ranked Anteaters on Saturday at top-ranked USC.

Coach John Speraw, whose Anteaters could have claimed the inside track on an MPSF regular-season title, were bested, 25-22, 25-19, 27-29, 25-18, by the Trojans, on a night when UCI junior setter Chris Austin struggled, according to Speraw.

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Austin, a transfer from Long Beach City College, has been filling in for sophomore starter Daniel Stork, who has still not been cleared after sustaining a concussion in late February.

"For the first time in a long time, I just feel like we didn't execute, offensively," Speraw said. "For the first time in a long time, we didn't set the ball real well. We didn't connect."

Austin, who had a career-high 60 assists in Thursday's win at Pepperdine, finished with 46 assists. But the Anteaters (20-5, 16-5 in conference) hit .206 as a team.

USC (20-4, 16-4), which can close out the regular-season MPSF crown with wins at Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State next week, used its fall-back plan to greater effect on Saturday.

"USC is not super flashy and it's a very good defensive team," Speraw said. "[The Trojans] block a lot of balls, so if their offense isn't going great, they have something to fall back on. And they fell back on that [Saturday]."

USC, which hit .287 as a team, posted a 14-5.5 advantage in team blocks.

In addition, UCI had 20 service errors and seven aces, while USC, on a 15-match win streak, managed four aces with its nine missed serves.

UCI came in having won 11 of its last 12 and was 9-0 on the road entering Saturday. But Speraw said his team is clearly in a slump.

"You can see it in practice," Speraw said. "The fist team got beat just about every drill [in practice] the entire week. So, we're going to have to figure something else out here. We've got some ideas."

Senior All-American opposite Carson Clark had a team-best 17 kills and one of his two aces closed out the third-set win for the visitors.

Sophomore outside hitter Jeremy Dejno had 13 kills and hit .308, while collecting a team-best three aces.

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