Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jacob Steele hits a kill past the UC Irvine block in the Waves’ three-set win at Firestone Fieldhouse on Feb. 9. The Waves played UC Irvine away Feb. 11, and lost 3-1. Photos by Mary Elisabeth
No. 5 Pepperdine Men’s Volleyball took down UC Irvine in straight sets 25-21, 25-17, 27-25 on Feb. 9, in Firestone Fieldhouse. It was the Wave’s fifth 3-0 win of the season, as they improved to 5-2.
Graduate student outside hitter Jaylen Jasper had a standout performance, leading the team with 11 kills and contributing 8 blocks. Graduate student outside hitter Spencer Wickens and redshirt sophomore opposite Jacob Steele also came up big for the Waves, tallying seven and six kills, respectively.
“I think we know that we’re capable of doing amazing things,” Jasper said. “Just figuring out how to keep that high level of play constant throughout the season is going to be big for us.”
Prior to Wednesday’s contest, the Wave’s last match was a 3-1 loss away at UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 4.
“This group has won a lot of matches over the last few years, so they’re not used to losing,” Head Coach David Hunt said. “I think we’re still figuring out how to compete with this group.”
The Waves had a sluggish start and put themselves in a 7-4 hole early on in the first set. UC Irvine setter Dylan Zhai conducted play effectively from the center of the court, registering four assists on the Anteaters’ first five points.
Pepperdine tied the game up three points later at 7-7, thanks in part to a kill and a block from graduate student middle blocker Austin Wilmot. This was Wilmot’s first match against UC Irvine after transferring from the school at the end of the 2019 season.
“This game was probably three years in the making,” Wilmot said. “I’ve been waiting for it for a while; I was super amped.”
Both teams remained within two points of each other until, with Pepperdine leading 15-13, UC Irvine scored five in a row to put themselves up 18-15. Pepperdine struggled to keep their shots in bounds on a number of occasions, which contributed to the Anteaters’ run.
The Waves’ hit percentage stood at a .111 mark for the first set, compared to the Anteaters .207.
But the Waves would find their accuracy down the stretch. With UC Irvine up 20-17, the Waves went on an 8-1 run to close out the set 25-21. Sophomore middle blocker Andersen Fuller was lively at the net for the Waves. Closing out the first set, Fuller registered a kill and two blocks during the scoring run.
“It’s natural to have some jitters,” Wilmot said. “Or maybe, if you make two bad plays in a row, you kind of get in your head. But it’s about how quick you snap out of it, and I think our guys did a really good job of adjusting.”
The second set, much like the first, started slow for Pepperdine. The Waves quickly fell to a 1-3 deficit early on with 3 solid kills coming from the Anteaters. Despite another quiet beginning, the Waves dashed back ahead to an 8-5 lead thanks to 5 consecutive points gained on Pepperdine’s side.
“I think at first we kind of let their energy or lack thereof kind of seep over to our side,” Jasper said about the slow start. “That was something that we knew going into the game.”
In the middle of the second set, Pepperdine dominated. Thanks to multiple consecutive errors on the part of UC Irvine, and arena shaking kills by Jasper and Wickens, the Waves climbed to a score of 16-7.
Keeping UC Irvine from even having a chance at mounting a comeback, Pepperdine continued focusing on the momentum leading to a 25-17 second set win.
While the game may have seemed quiet on the court before serves, Jasper said talking at the net was a major aspect of the game.
“I think during some of the plays, we kind of recognized that we were able to get in their heads just by keeping the energy on our side and not playing into any chirping or talking that they were doing through the net,” Jasper said.
With UC Irvine’s back to the wall, they made a grasp at a comeback. Starting with the first point, UC Irvine put a kill on the board that quieted Pepperdine fans.
This time, however, the Waves weren’t going to let the Anteaters get ahead early.
Roaring to a 3-1 start, Pepperdine kept their tempo high, pressuring the Anteaters with every serve, block and kill. Regardless of the pressure, UC Irvine fought back, tying Pepperdine at 3-3, 4-4, 8-8, all the way up to an 18-18 tie nearing the end of the crucial set.
“They were talking through the net at me a little bit, so I was amped up,” Wilmot said, about his block to bring the score to 17-17. “Right after they were talking a lot, I got that block, so I was so pumped up.”
Pepperdine and UC Irvine then began a struggle over match point. Pepperdine was the first team to get to match point, making the score 25-24. Next, UCI grabbed a point from a kill by redshirt sophomore Cole Gillis. Shaking off the tough tie late in the set, Wickens scored a kill to bring it to 26-25 and a perfectly timed block scored the winning point for the dominant Waves.
“I think just keeping our energy for us and not letting them get to us, which is a lot easier said than done,” Jasper said. “I think if we do what we did tonight and if we get down on Friday just to holding everything in and going back out there and you know short term memory, I think it’ll be I think it’ll be another good night for us.”
The Waves traveled to UC Irvine three days later, Feb. 11, and fell to the Anteaters 13-25, 25-21, 25-21, 26-24. Now 5-3, the Waves enter conference play Feb. 18, at Grand Canyon University.
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