IRVINE — After unranked UC San Diego stunned host UC Irvine in four games in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball opener Wednesday night, Tritons' senior hero Phil Bannan put forth the notion that it may not have been an upset.
Moments later, UCI Coach John Speraw said he certainly hoped his No. 7-ranked team, which had been picked to win a share of the MPSF championship in a preseason poll and is now 2-3 after opening the season ranked No. 2, was at the very least, upset.
"You know we aren't a very good volleyball team yet," said Speraw, whose team had won five straight and 32 of 38 matches over UCSD coming in. "I hope [the players are angry]. I'd like to see some of that. You don't see that on the court right now. I was feeling it, certainly, in the middle of the match."
Speraw said defense, serving, a lack of cohesion between two setters and junior All-American opposite Carson Clark, who missed fall workouts to play and train with the U.S. national team, were all factors that allowed UCSD (2-2) to pull off a 16-25, 25-19, 25-22, 30-28 triumph.
But Speraw also pointed to the play of Bannan, a Corona del Mar High product, who paced the winners with 41 assists and five aces, while adding eight digs, two block assists and two kills.
"The thing that jumps out at you is just what Phil Bannan did from the service line," Speraw said. "[The Tritons] had nine aces [to just three for UCI] and he had five of them. He played great. I think he was the difference in the match. He's a senior and he's a good volleyball player, so he is going to make those things happen. And when you have a couple close games, an ace or two here or there makes a difference."
Bannan had an crucial ace to break an 18-18 tie in Game 3. Using a potent left-handed jump serve, he also pounded back-to-back aces to open Game 4, which he finally ended on the fourth match point with his final ace.
"I had some good tosses and I was able to take some good swings at those serves," said Bannan, who shared a post-match congratulatory hug with CdM High Coach Steve Conti. "It sure is a good way to start off the [conference season] We've had some upsets in the past, but I hope this wasn't an upset."
The volleyball nation, as well as Speraw, would disagree.
"The fact is, when you're playing games to 25, teams that aren't favored are going to win more often," Speraw said. "That's going to work in our favor down the road, but it didn't work in our favor tonight. We could come out and beat UC Santa Barbara on Saturday [at home at 7 p.m.], which is a much better team than San Diego. I feel like this [UCI] team is capable of doing some things."
Speraw, who substituted for both starting outside hitters, including senior All-American Jordan DuFault, and also replaced starting setter Daniel Stork, a freshman, with senior Anthony Spittle with the 'Eaters trailing, 8-4, in the fourth set, said his team has much to work on.
"We have to serve tougher and more consistently [UCI made 20 service errors, one more than the visitors]," Speraw said. "We're going to have to dig more balls [the Tritons had 38 digs to UCI's 26 to offset a 15-8 edge for UCI in team blocks] and we're going to have to find our connection with [setting] Carson. When we do those things, I think we'll be fine. It's a long season and I still feel good. I'm not super depressed."
Speraw mentioned leadership as another area of concern.
"[Leadership] is a pretty intrinsic thing for some guys, but we also have to be able to teach it and tell guys what the expectation is for their behavior on the court, especially from some of the older guys. We need to be able to teach that as much as we need to teach passing, and setting and serving and hitting."
Clark led UCI with 14 kills, but hit .150. Clark had two of his team's three aces, but matched Stork with a team-worst five service errors.
Freshman Jeremy Dejno came off the bench to add eight kills for UCI, which received six block assists from junior middle blocker Austin D'Amore.
UCI hit .224 as a team, 35 points better than UCSD, which received 15 kills each from senior Joel Davidson and sophomore Curt Eberts.