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UC Irvine returns to Final Four in men's volleyball

The Anteaters defeat Stanford in a five-set final in the MPSF championship match to earn the bid to the NCAA tournament.

April 28, 2012|By Gary Klein

It remains to be determined whether UC Irvine is the best men's volleyball team in the nation.

The Anteaters can probably already lay claim to being the most resilient.

Just as they did in their semifinal victory over top-ranked USC, Irvine spotted Stanford a two-set lead and then came back to win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament championship Saturday night at the Galen Center.

The Anteaters' 20-25, 25-27, 25-21, 25-21, 15-12 victory advanced them to the Final Four for the third time in six years. Irvine won the national title in 2007 and 2009.

"We've been focusing on grinding and grinding through points and just getting ours when we can but not worrying about the end product," senior opposite Carson Clark said. "We did it really well in 2009, and I think we're starting to do it on this team."

Now the drama begins.

On Sunday, the NCAA will announce the bracket for next week's Final Four, which will be played for the first time at the Galen Center. Irvine (24-5) gets an automatic bid.

The NCAA tournament selection committee will consider a number of factors as USC and Brigham Young state their cases to supersede Stanford for an at-large berth.

USC (23-5) was the MPSF regular-season champion and had won 18 consecutive matches before Irvine ended the streak.

"It's going to be a sleepless night until the committee comes out with its decision," USC Coach Bill Ferguson said.

USC is 1-2 this season against Irvine. The Trojans are 2-0 against Stanford.

BYU is 2-0 against both USC and Irvine. The Cougars, however, are 0-3 against Stanford.

Stanford is 1-2 against Irvine.

"Tonight was our opportunity to set our own course and choose our own destiny and we didn't take advantage of the opportunity," Stanford Coach John Kosty said. "Now we put it in the committee's hands."

The Cardinal was ahead of the Anteaters, 8-7, at the changeover in the fifth set, but Irvine pulled even at 10-10 and went ahead on a kill by middle blocker Austin D'Amore and setter Chris Austin's block of Steven Irvin.

Stanford pulled to within 13-12 on a kill by Brian Cook, but outside hitter Connor Hughes' kill put the Anteaters at match point and Clark closed out the match with a kill.

Outside hitter Kevin Tillie had 24 kills while Clark and Hughes added 19 each as Irvine improved its record in five-set matches to 5-1.

Clark was selected as the most outstanding player in the tournament.

Brad Lawson had 23 kills, Steven Irvin 18 for Stanford.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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