All the talk going into the NCAA Tournament championship was the star power both teams had at outside attacker, but it was a career performance from a middle attacker that made all the difference for UC Irvine.
Scott Kevorken had a match-high 11 blocks and .600 attack percentage as the No. 2 seed UC Irvine swept the No. 1 seed BYU 25-23, 25-22, 26-24 on Saturday in Los Angeles to repeat as NCAA champions.
The Anteaters fought off three game-points in the third game, including a block from Kevorken with the score 24-23 that forced the overtime. Kevorken also had back-to-back blocks in the overtime to complete the sweep.
UC Irvine in the victory out-blocked BYU 17 to 6, including having six blocks in the third game.
The Anteaters had three players finish the match with double-digit kills. Outside attacker Connor Hughes had 11 kills and was named the NCAA Tournament MVP, while All-American outside attacker Kevin Tillie and outside attacker Zack La Cavera also added 11 kills.
With this victory, UC Irvine becomes the third school to repeat as national champions since men’s volleyball became a NCAA sanctioned sport in 1970 and the first team to accomplish the feat since UCLA in 1995-96.
UC Irvine coach David Kniffin also becomes the second first-year head coach to lead a team to a national title. Kniffin, a former UC Irvine assistant coach, was hired in the summer after John Speraw opted to leave the school to become the head coach at UCLA.
“The key for us was composure,” Kniffin told ESPN in an on-camera interview following the match. “If we showed anything tonight it was we can have composure when the lights are on. … This is the best we’ve executed an actual game play.”
BYU All-American outside attacker Taylor Sander in the loss had a match-high 20 kills. Sander was the only Cougar to have more than eight kills in the championship match.
The Anteaters after reaching the NCAA Tournament as the lone at-large bid out-hit the Cougars .383 to .274, including holding BYU to a match-worst .219 attack percentage in the final game.
UC Irvine trailed by seven points early in the second game before going on an 8-1 run to tie the game at 12. In addition, Anteaters had a match-best two attack errors and a .429 attack percentage as it had five of the final seven points to win the second game and take a two-game lead.
With the opening game tied at 22, UC Irvine was called for a back-row attack violation to give BYU a one-point lead. However, the Anteaters closed out the game on a 3-0 run to win the first game, including a controversial game-winning kill from outside attacker Kyle Russell who came off the bench for defensive purposes.
The Cougars following Russell’s kill spent about a minute protesting the call to the officials claiming the attack attempt that landed out of bounds was not tipped by a BYU player.
BYU was attempting to win its first national championship since 2004. The Cougars also become the second No. 1 overall seed in the tournament during the last three years to not win the NCAA championship.
2013 NCAA ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
Most Outstanding Player: Connor Hughes, UC Irvine
Setter: Chris Austin, UC Irvine
Opposite: Ben Patch, BYU
Outside attacker: Kevin Tillie, UC Irvine
Outside attacker: Taylor Sander, BYU
Middle attacker: Collin Mehring, UC Irvine
Libero: Michael Brinkley, UC Irvine