UC Irvine overpowers Penn State in NCAA Tournament quarterfinals

Photo by Vinnie Lopes

Outside attacker Akhil Tangutur stepped up in the biggest moment.

Tangutur had back-to-back kills in overtime to close out the first game as the No. 4 seed UC Irvine swept the No. 5 seed Penn State 26-24, 25-16, 25-19 in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals on Tuesday in Long Beach, California.

Tangutur finished the match with seven kills on .385 attack percentage in the Anteaters’ first NCAA Tournament appearance in six years. In addition, Tangutur was one of four Anteaters to have at least five kills against the EIVA champions.

Middle attacker Maxim Grigoriev contributed five kills and zero errors on a match-best .559 attack percentage, while opposite William D’Arcy had eight kills. Outside attacker Hilir Henno, the 2024 Off the Block National Offensive Player, led all players with 15 kills.

Penn State, though, limited Henno to a .189 attack percentage. Henno entered the NCAA Tournament having the best attack percentage in the nation among pin-hitters and having hit at least .200 in all but two matches this season.


Setter Brett Sheward guided the offense to out-hit Penn State .284 to .188, including the team having a match-best .435 attack percentage in the final game.

Sheward along with Griegoriev and middle attacker Connor Campbell had four blocks against Penn State. Henno also contributed a match-high five blocks as UC Irvine ended with nine blocks – three more blocks than Penn State.

Opposite John Kerr in the loss led the Nittany Lions with 14 kills and had a game-high seven kills in the opening game.

Coach Mark Pavlik used multiple setters in the loss. Freshman Michael Schwob set the first two games before being pulled for senior setter Luke Snyder at the start of the third game.

Penn State trailed by five points early in the third game but rallied to tie the game at 10-10. UC Irvine rebounded to retake the lead and then closed out the game on a 5-1 run highlighted with two kills and a block from Henno.

Henno had three kills and two blocks as part of an 8-3 run to open the second game. The Anteaters led by as many as 10 points and limited the Nittany Lions to a match-low .071 attack percentage en route to taking a two-game lead.

Penn State in the opening game fought off two game-points to force overtime. UC Irvine responded, though, with Tangutur having back-to-back kills to end the overtime session.

UC Irvine with this victory will advance to play the No. 1 seed UCLA in the NCAA Tournament semifinals on Thursday. UCLA swept the SIAC champions Fort Valley State in its quarterfinal match on Friday.

This is the first time UC Irvine has reached the NCAA Tournament semifinals since 2015.