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HomeSportsUCI sweeps Penn State en route to Men’s NC Volleyball Championship Semifinals

UCI sweeps Penn State en route to Men’s NC Volleyball Championship Semifinals

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The UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team (20-10, 7-3) defeated The Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions (23-7, 10-0) 3-0 in the first round of the 2024 Men’s National Collegiate Men’s Volleyball Tournament at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, CA. The Anteaters were led by junior outside hitter and National Offensive Player of the Year Hilir Henno, who finished with 15 kills. 

The first set went back-and-forth. Penn State took an early 4-2 lead, but a huge kill and block from UCI senior middle blocker Connor Campbell tied the set back up at four. The Nittany Lions then scored the next three points after a kill by junior middle blocker Owen Rose and an attacking error by Campbell for the ‘Eaters. 

UC Irvine cut the PSU lead to 9-8 after a kill by sophomore opposite William D’Arcy and an attacking error by Penn State. A kill from UCI graduate outside hitter Akhil Tangutur and a Penn State service error cut their lead to 11-10. 

UCI came back to tie the game at 13 after a massive slicing kill from Henno. Back-to-back service errors from each team sent the game to the first media timeout, with Penn State holding a narrow 15-14 advantage.

UCI took their first lead of the set, 17-16, following a kill by sophomore middle blocker Maxim Grigoriev and an attack error from Rose, forcing a Penn State timeout. 

A huge kill from Grigoriev put the Anteaters up 19-17, and after a service error from UCI, a kill from Tangutur put UCI up 20-18. After Penn State tied the game at 20, a Nittany Lions service error and momentum-changing kill from D’Arcy gave UCI a 22-20 lead, causing another PSU timeout. 

Both teams traded kills until Henno killed one across the left side, putting UCI up 24-22. A service error from Henno and a wide kill tied the game at 24-24. Two timely kills from Tangutur put the first set away, giving UCI a 26-24 victory.

UC Irvine continued to pick up the momentum in the second set as they took an early 6-2 advantage led by back-to-back kills from Henno, a service ace from graduate setter Brett Sheward, and another kill from Henno. Another kill from Campbell and a block from Henno gave the Anteaters an 8-2 lead, capping a 6-0 Anteater run. 

Penn State cut into the lead, making it 15-11, after a kill by senior middle blocker Toby Ezeonu. A Penn State service error, a kill from Henno and an attacking error from Rose gave UCI complete control with a 19-12 advantage, forcing a Penn State timeout. UCI steamrolled through the rest of the set, capped off with Henno’s 10th kill of the night, earning them a 25-16 second set win. 

The Anteaters jumped up to an early 5-1 lead in set three after a kill from Campbell and back-to-back kills from Henno. A huge Tomahawk kill by Sheward put UCI ahead 9-4, forcing a Penn State timeout. 

Penn State countered, however, scoring five of the next six points, capped off by a block from senior outside hitter Michal Kowal, forcing a UC Irvine timeout. A kill from graduate opposite John Kerr tied the game back up for the Nittany Lions, yet UCI battled back once again. Three points in a row for the Anteaters, capped off by a kill from Campbell, gave the ‘Eaters a 13-10 advantage. 

A double block for Henno and Campbell gave UCI a 15-12 lead, and a kill from D’Arcy put them back in the driver seat, 16-12. After a PSU kill, a huge service ace from Henno sent the Anteater crowd into a ruckus, giving them an 18-13 advantage. 

Three quick points from PSU put the ‘Eaters on edge, yet a service error from the Nittany Lions gave them the possession back, 19-16. The teams went back-and-forth until a massive kill from Henno put the ‘Eaters up 22-18.

The ‘Eaters closed out the set and first round game with an attacking error from Kerr, a kill from Henno and a PSU net violation, giving them the 25-19 set victory. 

After the game, UC Irvine head coach David Kniffin spoke about the nerves of this team’s first Men’s NC Volleyball Championship game and why he thinks the team played so well in such a meaningful game.

“My perspective on the match was it felt like a jittery first set for both teams,” Kniffin said in the postgame press conference. “Everybody was trying to get their legs under them, so I think you can point to any moment that could’ve been the moment that caused us to break through. It’s hard to pick out an exact turning point, but probably one of Akhil’s swings late in that first set.”

D’Arcy spoke about the significance of the next match with UCLA and how the team can plan to bring the same energy for that match.

“Full credit to the boys, I think everybody played a great game,” D’Arcy said in the postgame press conference. “Obviously, we got into the game right off the bat, but it’s a special moment. Everyone has to be dialed in for the next one.”

With the sweep, the Anteaters will face UCLA in the semifinals of the Men’s NC Volleyball Championship on Thursday, May 2, at 3:30 p.m. at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, CA.

James Huston is a Sports Co-Editor. He can be reached at hustonj@uci.edu.

Edited by Phillip Lemus, Jaheem Conley, and Laiyla Santillan