LONG BEACH — The UC Irvine men's volleyball team is ranked No. 1 in the country and on a nine-match winning streak that has included six straight road wins and six sweeps.
But after Saturday's 25-19, 25-20, 25-17 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation triumph at Long Beach State's Walter Pyramid, Anteaters Coach John Speraw was somehow less than impressed.
"Not really," Speraw said when asked if his team succeeded in pleasing him as much as it seemed to control the No. 9-ranked 49ers. "I was impressed with certain aspects of our game. I think [Long Beach Coach Andy Read] would agree that it was a very sloppy match."
Still, Speraw was not reluctant to praise his team's serving, particularly sophomore outside hitter Jeremy Dejno and senior middle blocker Dan McDonnell. Speraw also was happy with the kill efficiency of junior outside hitter Kevin Tillie and the continued contribution of freshman libero Michael Brinkley.
Tillie blasted a match-leading 14 kills while hitting at a .571 clip. At least half of those kills came out of the back row, on a play known as a bic set.
"When [Tillie, a 6-foot-6 native of France] does it right, it's lethal," Speraw said of the bic, on which a player leaping from behind the 10-foot line is usually disguised by a middle hitter leaping at the net. The camouflage makes the play difficult to block and the force with which the forward leap allows the bic hitter to get behind the ball usually draws a collective gasp from the crowd.
"It's pretty fun and we've been working on it a lot," Tillie said of the bic. "We've been getting better and better and it went really well tonight."
McDonnell had five of UCI's nine aces, which included three from senior All-American opposite Carson Clark. UCI, which has had trouble with service errors at various times this season, had just 12.
"We did serve great as a team," Speraw said. "Only 12 errors to go with nine aces in three games … that's a big-time stat."
McDonnell added seven kills, hit .600 and contributed a block assist, while Tillie led the team with eight digs.
Junior Chris Austin, who is 7-0 as a starter after taking over for Daniel Stork (still out with a concussion), had 37 assists for the winners (18-3, 14-3 in the MPSF), who maintain their spot atop the competitive conference standings.
Dejno had 11 kills, seven digs, one solo block and one block assist. He also had one ace, while adding five digs. He hit .364.
Clark finished with nine kills, but was not set particularly well, Speraw said.
UCI rallied from an 11-6 deficit in Game 2, but was in control most of the 75-minute match. The program's longest winning streak since 2009, when the 'Eaters claimed their second NCAA title, also continues to foster confidence, Speraw said.
"I think when you get wins it helps," Speraw said. "We win tonight, but there are some things that were just medium and things we could have done a lot better. I think we are getting more confident and if we could get it all going, we could be good at the end of the year, which is what your hope is."
UCI returns home on Friday to face UC Santa Barbara, then takes on No. 2-ranked UCLA on Saturday at Crawford Court.
Long Beach State fell to 10-11, 5-9.
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