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Faulkner: It's crunch time for Anteaters

April 10, 2014|By Barry Faulkner

Two of the hottest men's volleyball teams in the country square off Friday night at the Bren Events Center, when No. 6-ranked UC Irvine plays host to No. 4-ranked Stanford at 7 p.m.

Coach David Kniffin's Anteaters (17-9, 14-8 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) have won three straight matches and eight of their last nine. They currently sit in a fourth-place tie with UC Santa Barbara.

Stanford (18-7, 15-7) has nine consecutive wins and is looking to solidify third place and potentially challenge Pepperdine (16-6 in conference) for second.

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UCI could also wind up in second and a win over the Cardinal, as well as Pacific (3-22, 0-20) in the regular-season finale on Saturday at home, would at least give the two-time-defending national champion 'Eaters a top-four seeding and a home match in the April 19 MPSF Tournament quarterfinals.

With five senior starters, the Anteaters are not lacking poise or confidence. But Kniffin said that a recent comment by veteran assistant coach Mark Presho should help amp up the adrenaline that typically propels UCI into postseason success.

"I was telling our guys about the implications of the matches this weekend and Presho just added that he thought we were going to play Stanford again in the MPSF tournament," Kniffin said. "Presh told them, 'I don't care where we are, seeded No. 1 through No. 8, because we are going to win the tournament.'"

Kniffin said the comment was vintage Presho.

"I love that confidence and poise," Kniffin said of Presho. "He can be the ultimate pessimist during the first part of the season, and he nit-picks about everything trying to make us better. But when it comes to the playoffs, he just thinks that we've got what we've got and that's enough to win. It's fun to watch Presho get fired up at this time of year, just like our players."

Stanford swept UCI, 25-20, 25-21, 25-19, at home on Feb. 8, but Kniffin said the loss came with extenuating circumstances.

"I made a mistake and agreed to play that match at noon, so we could be on the Pac-12 Network," Kniffin said. "We played the night before at 7 p.m. [at Pacific] and we had to get up at 7 a.m. and drive to Palo Alto to play at noon. That just wasn't a good formula for us."

Kniffin was quick to not dismiss Pacific, which plays its final match before the program is disbanded after this season.

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