BYU Puts Rank on the Line Against UC Irvine

By the end of this week, UC Irvine (17-3) will have hosted three teams, and played four matches over a six day period. Already 2-0 for the week, the Anteaters would love to stay perfect and improve their number two ranking in the process.

On Monday, March 6th, the Anteaters swept Loyola-Chicago (30-21, 30-26 & 30-28). The next night, Tuesday, they swept Penn State (30-21, 30-27 & 30-25). The wins moved UC Irvine (UCI) to 9-0 at home on the season.

On Friday, March 10th and Saturday night, they will host the number one ranked Cougars of BYU (14-2). Friday at 7:00pm, they are looking forward to a large showing of fans from both schools. UCI is taking the match from their normal volleyball venue of Crawford Court to the basketball arena, Bren Center. The match on Saturday returns to Crawford Court for a 6:00pm start time.

On Feb. 25th, UCI visited UC San Diego. Both schools had their respective bands performing lively, and at times in competition against each other. It was a hoot.

UCI swept UCSD (30-20, 30-27 &30-22). Throughout the match, there were numerous long volleys of five or more returns by both teams. UCSD was not able to do as well against BYU just a week earlier. UC Irvine made great blocks several times in each of the long volleys.

The one thing that stood out dramatically was UCI's ability to react so quickly to the attack of UCSD. Equally surprising was UCSD's tenacity in keeping the ball alive against UCI. If UCSD had not been overhhitting on their attacks, they may have been able to give the Anteaters a run for their money through five games. Both teams made several great recoveries including multiple UCI players layiong out for pancakes.

In game one, UCSD started a six-point run to get within two at the midpoint of the game. In game two, the scoring was tight all to the end (30-27) with a tie at 25. Game three was tied at nine and within three at 17-20 for UCI before the Anteaters made a run to finalize the match (30-22).

UC Irvine has several great players on their team this year. The passing, blocking and setting is good. They have 90 service aces on the season. Like BYU, they can serve the fast ball.

Riding an eleven-game win streak, the Anteaters are looking forward to the matches this weekend. With BYU riding its own six-game win streak, it would be easy for the Cougs to fall into the trap of thinking they will waltz to a national championship. BYU cruised to easy sweeps in recent weeks playing the two teams on the bottom of the MPSF standings in UCSD and Stanford. A peek at the schedule, however, shows BYU is heading into the toughest stretch of this season. In the next month the Cougars will play double road matches against the 4th and 5th ranked teams in the nation.

The anteaters will be led by 6-foot-5 junior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky (4.36 kills per game), 6-foot-7 junior opposite Matt Webber (4.68 kills per game), 6-foot-7 junior middle blocker David Smith, and 6-foot-5 sophomore middle blocker Aaron Harrell. 6-foot-3 junior setter Brian Thornton runs the Anteater attack with a 13.96 assists per game average. 6-foot-1 senior Paul Spittle plays the other outside hitter position while 5-foot-11 freshman Brent Asuka mans the libero spot averaging 3.33 digs per game.

Look for tough middle blockers Smith and Harrell to attempt to dominate at the net and neutralize the potent Cougar attack. There will be a familiar face on the Anteater roster with former Cougar outside hitter Steffin Rangel providing depth of the bench.

With each passing practice the BYU attack is improving. 6-foot-8 freshman sensation Yosleyder Cala and 6-foot-8 sophomore middle blocker Russell Holmes lead the Cougar attack with help from 6-foot-2 junior transfer Jonathan Charette at opposite, 6-foot-3 senior outside hitter Taylor Evans, 6-foot-5 senior middle blocker Victor Batista, and 6-foot-4 junior outside hitter Ivan Perez. Senior setter Rob Neilson quarterbacks the offense, and senior defensive specialist 6-foot Brian Rowley mans the libero position.

Neilson is battling tendonitis in his knees and if he cannot go, look for sophomore Brian Congelliere to step into the setter position. These last four matches have provided valuable game experience for Congelliere as he has spelled Neilson for several games. Rotating setters is not the optimal situation for a team still looking to build cohesiveness since the addition of Cala, but Congelliere has proven he can run the offense effectively.

On paper this promises to be a great duel. The matches will, however, be won by the team that makes the fewest mistakes. The Cougars must cut down on service errors and the Neilson/Congelliere combo must keep the Irvine blockers guessing for BYU to come out on top. If Irvine is able to concentrate their block on Cala and Holmes, BYU will be in trouble. Charette, Evans, Batista, and Perez must all get their swings and hit effectively or BYU will come home as the number two team.

For a related article on Jonathan Charette, see:

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