Brandon Johnson | Off the Block special contributor
In 2017, the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team opened the year with a new look, sporting short shorts and collared jerseys. It was a bold, new look for a program that has been one of the most successful in men’s volleyball since 2006.
Fast forward to 2018 and the Anteaters once again have a new look. Although the short shorts and collared jerseys have remained the same (with a Big West Conference patch now added), new faces are dominating the court and the stat sheet each and every night.
The 2017 squad relied heavily on the play of seniors Tamir Hershko, Thomas Hodges, and Dillon Hoffman. However, no player was harder to replace than All-American setter Michael Saeta.
Not only was Saeta the heart and soul of the team, he also was a finalist for the National Server of the Year and his aggressive play at the net was hard for opponents to defend.
Enter Dante Chakravorti. There’s no mistaking the new setter for the Anteaters — his scraggly mop of hair and constant nervous energy makes him a player that is hard for fans to take their eyes off of.
“We are obviously different team, and we really try to play our own game this year,” Chakravorti said. “We took as much as we could and learned from that team. We have some new guys out there, so we are just really trying to develop a system and cultivate ways that we can win.”
Through the season’s first month, Chakravorti has not only done an admirable job of replacing Saeta, he has helped the No. 4/4 Anteaters off to an unexpected 9-1 start.
Among those wins included a two-match weekend series sweep of the No. 6/6 BYU when Chakravorti led the Irvine offense to a .356 and .350 hitting efficiency in back-to-back night. In addition, Chakravorti on Monday was named the Off the Block National Setter of the Week because of his performance agains the Cougars
The lone blemish on the UC Irvine schedule is a five-game loss at No. 2/2 UCLA. UC Irvine has the fourth-best attack percentage in the nation at a .338 clip, and Chakravorti has accounted for the third-most assists per game in the newly formed Big West men’s volleyball conference with a 10.24 average.
One of the beneficiaries of Chakravorti’s setting is Preseason All-American middle blocker Scott Stadick, who is regularly fed the ball from all angles on the court by the junior setter.
“Dante has been fantastic and has been groovin’ our offense all year,” Stadick said. “He’s a fantastic location setter.”
As the 2017 season came to a close, Chakravorti knew the departure of Saeta meant he would have controls of the program. After seeing inconsistent, minimal playing time in his first two years, the new starting setter did not take this responsibility lightly.
“Dante has been our floor general, [and] he made a commitment this past summer to get after it the weight room”, assistant coach Mark Presho said. “He’s running the show and doing some things that are dynamic.”
As the Anteaters continue to accumulate wins and climb the standings, Chakravorti knows his success is tied hand in hand with the success of his teammates.
“As a setter, you really want to try to help out your hitters as much as possible” he added.
He has done just that as five Anteaters are in the top-13 of the Big West in hitting efficiency.
UC Irvine returns to action on Friday to plays host Stanford, followed the next night by a rematch against UCLA.
Brandon Johnson is an Off the Block special contributor and writes the column Sideline Observations. His views do not necessarily represent those of Off the Block.