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Men's Volleyball: USC shakes up top-ranked UCI

No. 8-ranked Trojans produce stunning sweep of host Anteaters, who had talked of unbeaten season.

January 11, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — Both coaches came in wanting to mix things up. And, well, the rematch of the 2012 NCAA men's volleyball final between defending champion and top-ranked UC Irvine and visiting USC on Friday certainly delivered in that department.

The No. 8-ranked Trojans, who were swept in their season opener at UC San Diego on Thursday, turned the tables to stun previously unbeaten UCI, 25-21, 25-23, 27-25, in front of 1,726 at the Bren Events Center.

For the Anteaters, who won the season-opening UC Santa Barbara Invitational and improved to 4-0 by topping No. 4-ranked Pepperdine in three sets on Tuesday, it put an end to talk of an unbeaten season. UCI, a unanimous preseason No. 1 nationally after winning its third NCAA title in six seasons last spring, is 1-1 in the MPSF.

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USC, which received a lift from sophomore Corona del Mar High product Joey Booth, laced a jump serve into the conventional wisdom formulated about the two programs by back-row observers.

"I don't believe that you have to fail to learn," UCI first-year coach David Kniffin said after his team posted a .183 hitting percentage, 98 points worse than the Trojans. "But there's no question that we grow from this. We should grow every time we step on the court. The one thing I think this might do for us is remind us that any team in this conference can win any night."

UCI inserted freshman Kyle Russell into the starting lineup for sophomore Zack La Cavera at opposite, after La Cavera had a match-best 16 kills and hit .577 against Pepperdine. In addition, Connor Hughes started at outside hitter, in place of fellow junior Jeremy Dejno.

USC, with Booth making his first career start (he had three career kills coming in), took a while to find its rhythm. The Trojans overcame first-set deficits of 13-10 and 16-14 to eventually pull away.

Kniffin replaced starting junior middle blocker Collin Mehring with freshman Jason Agopian to begin the second set and eventually substituted for every starter except senior All-American outside hitter Kevin Tillie and sophomore libero Michael Brinkley.

Agopian (five kills on seven swings for a .714 hitting clip), sophomore Travis Woloson (productive serving) and La Cavera (seven kills, two fewer than team leader Tillie) all added a spark. But ultimately, UCI never collectively ignited for more than sporadic scoring streaks.

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