YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Hawaii Hands Irvine First Loss

February 01, 2003|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

UC Irvine ... No. 1?

In the nation?

Had to be a misprint, a mistake, maybe a mistimed joke with defending national champion Hawaii coming to town Friday.

The school with one winning record in 15 previous seasons of nondescript men's volleyball? The best in the nation?

This week's coaches' poll confirmed it: For the first time in school history, the Anteaters were the top-ranked team. All they had to do was prove it against Hawaii, ranked No. 2.

It almost feels strange to say, but Irvine lost a big match.

Hawaii defeated the Anteaters, 30-18, 24-30, 30-18, 30-26, at the Bren Events Center before 3,235, the largest crowd ever to see a volleyball match at Irvine.

Costas Theocharidis had 20 kills and Hawaii rarely flinched, serving twice as many aces as Irvine did and holding decisive advantages in kills and blocks.

Hawaii (6-1, 2-1 in Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play) seemed more at ease in front of the boisterous Irvine crowd and acted like a national champion.

As for Irvine, well, it takes time to get used to all this new stuff.

"Tonight was an experience for a lot of our players, with the band, the fans and the atmosphere," said first-year Coach John Speraw. "Hawaii's been there before, but this was new for us."

Speraw, a former middle blocker for UCLA, was a Bruin assistant --barely -- when he applied for the coaching vacancy at Irvine last year. He got the nod over three other candidates, and more than doubled his salary of $24,000 as the Bruins' second assistant.

Consider it a wise investment for Irvine (10-1, 3-1).

Until this season, the Anteaters had been 115-251, their only winning season the glorious 14-11 campaign of 1999.

Speraw has turned Irvine into a ferocious blocking team, mimicking the cornerstone of UCLA's longtime success. The Anteaters had out-blocked their opponents on a per-game basis, 3.1 to 2.1.

"I'm not reinventing the wheel," Speraw said. "The UCLA wheel has been doing well for years. I'm not going to change it much."

Before Friday, what had been changing was Irvine's success.

The Anteaters had beaten Pepperdine and Long Beach State in three games, Stanford in four games and UCLA in five ... twice. Irvine had been 1-28 all-time against UCLA before this season.

The match against Hawaii was a step back.

Hawaii had six aces, Irvine only three. Hawaii had 65 kills to Irvine's 53. The Anteaters were even out-blocked by Hawaii, 10.5 to 8.

Jimmy Pelzel had 24 kills for the Anteaters but was the only Irvine player with more than eight.

"Jimmy should have been set more often," Speraw said. "This will be good for us in the long run. A team that forces us into mistakes like they do shows us what our weaknesses are."

Was Friday an aberration? That's to be determined tonight -- Hawaii and Irvine play again.

"Hopefully we can learn from this and take them," Pelzel said.

Los Angeles Times Articles