DuFault helps Anteaters reclaim title
PROVO, Utah -- UC Irvine wanted to prove that the NCAA volleyball title it won two years ago was no fluke.
The Anteaters dispelled that notion Saturday by winning again, rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat Southern California 3-2 in the NCAA title match.
"That was an epic battle," UC Irvine coach John Speraw said. "I think people could be talking about that match for a very, very long time. I know I will."
Taylor Wilson had 21 kills, Ryan Ammerman finished with 55 assists and Jordan DuFault added 14 kills, including the final one to give UC Irvine a 15-12 win in the fifth set.
The Anteaters were in the volleyball Final Four for the third time in four years and reclaimed the title they won in 2007.
Speraw, who played and coached at UCLA before coming to Irvine seven years ago, remembered when the Anteaters couldn't compete with the rest of California's volleyball powers.
Now, they're the best in the nation.
"The UC Irvine that's still in my memory is the one where you drive down the freeway, you beat them in an hour and you're hanging out on Newport Beach," Speraw said. "I think this championship shows that what happened in 2007 wasn't just lightning striking."
Top-seeded UC Irvine (27-5) led the fifth set 14-12 when Ammerman set up DuFault for the winning kill. Tony Ciarelli got to the ball before it hit the floor, but he bumped it high over the USC bench and Riley McIbbin couldn't get to it to make the save and the Anteaters rushed onto the floor.
Murphy Troy had 26 kills and McIbbin had 71 assists for USC (21-11), which was in the championship for the first time since 1991.
The Trojans had ended a 10-match losing streak to Irvine on April 30 with a 3-0 win in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals and took a 2-1 lead Saturday by holding off the Anteaters 30-26 in the third set, but couldn't finish it.
"We just felt like the stars aligned for this match to take place and for us to have another shot at them for something a little more important than an MPSF championship," said Nick Spittle, one of six Irvine players who were on the 2007 championship team.
Ammerman, who was close to leaving school after a frustrating junior season, finished his college career with tournament's most outstanding player award Saturday. He also had six kills, a career-high 12 blocking assists and one solo block.
"Ammo's been absolutely huge this entire year," Wilson said. "Blocking serving setting, literally just absolutely doing it all."
Irvine tied it with a 30-17 win in the fourth, then pulled away at the end of the fifth set and won it on DuFault's 14th kill.
The Trojans struggled with 22 service errors, twice as many as the Anteaters' total, and had 13 fewer blocks.
"They were able to get into a rhythm blocking and defensively against us and we weren't," USC coach Bill Ferguson said.
The Anteaters regained the momentum with a blowout in the fourth set. Bryan Simmons had two straight blocks, followed by a kill during a 7-0 run that put the Anteaters up 23-11.
Ferguson began substituting the Trojans' reserves in order to get the starters rest for the final set as the Anteaters tied the match with a 30-17 win.
"We felt like that was the best way to get back into it. Once the dam breaks there's really nothing you can do," Ferguson said. "It was working for us for a while."
The Trojans were fresh for the final set, which was close until the end as neither team led by more than two before Irvine won it.
The Anteaters nearly rallied for a win in the third after falling behind by four early. UC Irvine got within one seven times but could never quite catch the Trojans.
Ammerman cut the lead to 27-26 with a kill, but USC scored the next three points, winning on a block by Tri Bourne and Hunter Current to put the Trojans up 2-1.
USC won the opening set 30-26, then UC Irvine tied it with a 30-23 win in the second.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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