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Men's Volleyball: UCI sends Ramblers home

Anteaters sweep upstart Loyola of Chicago, ending its first Final Four appearance.

May 02, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • The UC Irvine men's volleyball team celebrates the final point after sweeping Loyola-Chicago during the 2013 NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship semifinal match at UCLA's Pauley Pavillion on Thursday.
The UC Irvine men's volleyball team celebrates… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

LOS ANGELES — Loyola of Chicago was the first first-time participant in the four-team NCAA men's volleyball championship since UC Irvine had that distinction in 2006.

A lot has obviously changed for the Anteaters since that time, as they moved within one victory of their fourth national championship with a 26-24, 25-18, 29-27 semifinal win over the upstart Ramblers on Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.

No. 2-seeded UCI (24-7) looked every bit the perennial power on Thursday, hitting .500 as a team for only the second time this season and bearing down late in the first and third sets to complete their fifth sweep in their last seven matches and win their fourth straight NCAA semifinal.

The Anteaters, who won NCAA crowns in 2007, 2009 and 2012 and have not lost in the Final Four since 2006, will face top-seeded BYU (26-4) on Saturday at 6 p.m. The Cougars, who have beaten UCI twice this season, defeated Penn State, 25-21, 25-16, 25-22, in the other semifinal.

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Senior All-American Kevin Tillie led the winners with 14 kills on 19 swings for a .579 percentage. Tillie, who hit for a higher percentage only once this season (.609 with 16 kills against Pacific on April 6) also shared the team lead with seven digs and four block assists, while producing one of the team's three ace serves.

"Tillie didn't seem to be injured at all," said UCI first-year coach David Kniffin, who saw Tillie get only six kills while battling a tweaked knee that temporarily sidelined him in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament semifinal loss to Long Beach State last week. "He stepped up and took some swings and hit over .500. Any time you can do that in the semis, it's pretty special."

But the heroes were as numerous for UCI as their impressive achievements since landing themselves on the national volleyball map seven years ago under then-coach John Speraw.

Junior All-American middle blocker Collin Mehring hit .818 with nine kills in 11 swings without an error.

Junior middle Scott Kevorken had five kills with a .400 hitting percentage and added four block assists.

And junior outside hitter Connor Hughes came off the bench late in the first set to pound nine kills on 13 swings (.615).

But as well as UCI's offense was humming, No. 3-seeded Loyola (22-10) pushed the Anteaters almost the entire way.

UCI rallied from a 20-17 deficit to prevail in the opening set, trailed, 13-12, in Game 2, and withstood two set points for Loyola to close out its 13th sweep of the season.

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