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Men's Volleyball: Emotion, Tillie lift UCI in win

Anteaters rally for five-set triumph against visiting Long Beach State.

January 26, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — UC Irvine's run to the 2012 NCAA men's volleyball championship was a tribute to shape shifting. With seemingly interchangeable parts, the Anteaters drew upon their bench at a moment's notice, no matter the stakes.

While that trend continues this season, in which a congested January schedule has created opportunities through injuries and lulls in performance, it appears that the most valuable addition to the No. 3-ranked Anteaters' lineup just might be adrenaline.

With a majority of the 1,701 in attendance at the Bren Events Center on Friday fueling the hosts' competitive juices, the result was a pressure-packed 23-25, 25-19, 20-25, 25-16, 15-13 victory over Long Beach State in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match that was anyone's for the taking.

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Senior returning All-American Kevin Tillie said his play was admittedly elevated by emotion as he amassed a match-best 21 kills and produced a .450 hitting percentage. Tillie smacked the match-winning kill to induce both cheers of joy and sighs or relief from the home faithful.

Five other UCI players had one kill each in the deciding set, in which UCI (6-3, 3-3 in conference) hit a combined .059.

But the No. 7-ranked 49ers (5-3, 3-2), who scrapped and clawed to force a fifth game despite an incredible 62-41 kill deficit through four games, seemed to wilt as the spotlight intensified. The visitors made five service errors, two hitting errors and allowed another ball to fall on their side of the net as defenders flinched in unison to give UCI an 8-4 advantage.

It was UCI that made the most mistakes in the opening game, as eight service errors helped the visitors prevail.

A potential turning point occurred early in Game 3, when UCI junior starting setter Daniel Stork went down with what Anteaters Coach David Kniffin later said was a hip injury. Senior Chris Austin, who took over for Stork last season to lead the national title push, stepped in, and the Anteaters immediately struggled, dropping six of the next seven points. UCI never got closer than four as Long Beach took a 2-1 lead in sets.

"We have two setters with very different styles," said Kniffin, whose team has won two straight after dropping three in a row previously. "Daniel lofts the ball up there and puts a lot of air underneath his sets. Chris runs a little faster tempo, with a little more flash. I liken it to switching pitchers in the middle of an inning on an [opposing] batter."

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