IRVINE, Calif. » Simple adjustments or opportunities missed can determine any intense duel, as Hawaii observed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s volleyball playoffs.
UC Irvine made those adjustments and exploited those chances to sweep the Warriors 28-26, 30-28, 25-21 in last night’s quarterfinal in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 788 at Irvine’s Crawford Court.
Hawaii (15-13), seeded fifth in the playoffs and ranked sixth nationally, failed to advance beyond the MPSF quarterfinals for the seventh time in the past nine years.
The fourth-seeded Anteaters (19-11), ranked third in the nation, will play in Thursday night’s semifinals at USC. The MPSF champion will qualify for the NCAA tournament.
"Both teams played at a really high level, ultra-competitive," Warriors coach Charlie Wade said. "Those first two games were really closely contested. If you look at the hitting percentages, it’s just ridiculous."
Irvine coach John Speraw, an assistant on the national men’s team, agreed.
"They have three of the best hitters in America on one team," Speraw said of All-American Jonas Umlauft, Joshua Walker and Steven Hunt. "We knew coming in that it was going to be a battle."
Both teams forced 25 ties and exchanged the lead eight times in the first game, with Hawaii hitting .517 and Irvine converting at a .588 rate. But the second game proved pivotal.
Umlauft led a 7-2 surge that gave the Warriors a 13-8 lead by scoring five points on four kills and a block. The Anteaters responded by putting 6-foot-6 junior middle blocker Dan McDonnell into their rotation.
McDonnell had played just 38 of Irvine’s 109 games this year — and only one of the eight against Hawaii.
"We didn’t even know who he was," Wade said. "(Speraw) actually brought him in for a guy who was hitting 1.000."
But McDonnell fit Speraw’s plans perfectly.
"He’s a really, really good offensive middle blocker," Speraw said. "A team like (Hawaii) that didn’t set a lot of quick (sets) allowed Dan, who’s not the best read blocker, to get out to the pins. He’s so big that we started getting some stuffs out of him, too.
"That substitution was really important for us."
As a result, Irvine moved ahead, 18-17. Yet Hawaii regained a 24-23 advantage, the first of four times when the Warriors reached game point.
But the Anteaters’ Jordan DuFault thwarted the first two opportunities with cross-court kills. Cory Yoder pounded the ball off Brennon Dyer’s block to nullify the third.
McDonnell used a kill off Anthony Spittle’s quick set to sabotage the fourth, then Carson Clark gave Irvine a 28-27 lead with another kill.
"When you get those chances," Wade said, "you can’t let them slip away and expect to win the match."
Walker’s cross-court kill from the left antenna tied the score at 28, but his ensuing long serve gave the Anteaters a one-point lead. DuFault’s kill ensured the victory after Clark twice kept the ball alive with diving digs.
"That was huge for us," Speraw said of the recovery.
The Warriors, however, remained defiant.
"If you were in our huddle all the way until the end, you could see the look in their eyes," Wade said. "They absolutely were still competing till the end."
But defiance was not enough in the third game.
"We just made enough plays," Speraw said. "That’s what you need to do in the playoffs."
NO. 3 UC IRVINE DEF. NO. 6 HAWAII
28-26, 30-28, 25-21
|WARRIORS (15-13, 13-10)|
|ANTEATERS (19-11, 15-8)|
Key — s: games; k: kills; e: hitting errors; att: attempts; pct: hitting percentage; d: digs; bs: block solo; ba: block assists; pts: points (kills plus blocks plus aces). Service Aces — Hawaii 5 (Walker 2, Umlauft 2, Dyer). UC Irvine 6 (Clark 3, Spittle, DuFault, Carroll). Service errors — Hawaii 13 (Dyer 5, Walker 3, Zemljak 3, Biscaro 2). UC Irvine 13 (Clark 3, Kevorken 3, Dejno 2, DuFault, Yoder, Wynne, Carroll, McDonnell). Assists — Hawaii 48 (Zemljak 41, Castello 3, Walker 2, Hunt, Umlauft), UC Irvine 54 (Spittle 51, DuFault, Yoder, Wynne). T — 1:53. Officials — Eric Asami, Kevin Cull. A — 788.