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Men's Volleyball: 'Eaters advance to semis

UCI rallies to eliminate UCSB and faces 49ers in MPSF semis on Thursday at BYU.

April 20, 2013|By Barry Faulkner

IRVINE — The UC Irvine men's volleyball team made the preliminary Final Four on Saturday, topping a revved-up UC Santa Barbara, 26-24, 22-25, 20-25, 25-19, 15-10, in the quarterfinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament at the Bren Events Center.

Junior opposite Zack La Cavera had a team-best 19 kills and hit .319 to help the No. 3-ranked Anteaters, the No. 2 seed in the MPSF Tournament, advance to Thursday's semifinals against No. 3-seeded Long Beach State at BYU. UCI has beaten the 49ers in all three previous meetings this season.

Senior All-American Kevin Tillie had 15 kills, 11 digs, two aces, one solo block and three block assists to help the hosts improve to 23-6 by earning their seventh triumph in nine five-set matches this season.

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UCI came in having won 15 consecutive sets, and held off the Gauchos (15-16) in the opening game, before faltering slightly.

UCSB, which rode a No. 7 MPSF seed to the NCAA Tournament championship match in 2011, scrapped its way to within one game of an upset by winning Games 2 and 3.

But UCI, fortified by the belief that comes from winning three NCAA titles in the previous six seasons, stuck to the plan, even if it didn't stick with its starting lineup.

Junior outside hitter Jeremy Dejno, a first-team All-MPSF performer in 2012 who had lost his starting spot in recent weeks, came off the bench to hit .583 with seven kills, one solo block and three block assists. Two of those block assists came in the fifth set, in which UCI seized a 4-1 lead, then never let the Gauchos get closer than two.

Another spark off the bench came from junior middle blocker Collin Mehring, who stepped in for senior Ian Castellana to produce five kills and seven block assists. Mehring had three block assists and one kill in Game 5.

Tillie, who boomed serves all night, including a team-worst five service errors, still had a positive effect from the service line. In addition to his two aces, he forced UCSB to make spectacular "digs" on his dipping serves, many of which ticked or barely cleared the tape atop the net.

"There wasn't an outstanding performance by any one guy, even though [Dejno] did a nice job off the bench," UCI Coach David Kniffin said. "The key in the playoffs is composure and I think that was the key tonight. We maintained composure at the end."

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