UC Irvine Sweeps USC To Win 2012 NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship
May 5, 2012
Carson Clark had a match-high 22 kills while hitting .465 to lead the No. 2-ranked UC Irvine men's volleyball team to a 25-22, 34-32, 26-24 sweep over No. 1 USC in the 2012 NCAA Championship final before 9,612 fans in USC's Galen Center on Saturday (May 5).
It was the third NCAA crown for the top-seeded Anteaters (26-5), following titles in 2007 and 2009. Their 2009 championship also came against USC, but in 5 sets. USC (24-6), which has won 4 NCAA titles but none since 1990, was making its third NCAA Final Four appearances in the past 4 years.
It also was UCI's third win in 4 meetings in 2012 against 2-time defending Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season champion USC, including a 5-set win in a semifinal match of last week's MPSF Tournament when the Anteaters came back from a 2-set deficit.
The crowd was the third largest to witness an NCAA men's volleyball final match, just 210 short of the record 9,822 set in 1998 in Honolulu when UCLA swept Pepperdine.
UCI, which overcame a 7-point deficit midway through the second set that turned all the momentum the Anteaters' way, hit .320 in the match to USC's .297. The Anteaters served 6 aces. USC had 45 digs and UCI had 37.
Clark, who was named the Most Outstanding Player on the NCAA All-Tournament team, also had 8 digs and 3 aces. Teammate Connor Hughes added 13 kills (hitting .357), Kevin Tillie had 11 kills and 8 digs, Dan McDonnell had 5 kills, 4 blocks and 2 aces and Chris Austin had a match-high 15 digs to go with his 48 assists. Hughes, Tillie and Austin joined Clark on the NCAA All-Tournament team.
For USC, AVCA National Player of the Year Tony Ciarelli had 18 kills and 8 digs, Tanner Jansen had 10 kills while hitting .500 and added 7 digs and J.B. Green had 11 digs. Ciarelli made the NCAA All-Tournament team.
UC Irvine led throughout most of the match's first set, using a 3-0 run to go up 10-8 and then building it to 17-14, but USC caught up at 20-20 before 4 consecutive kills by Clark, Tillie, Austin and Scott Kevorken let the Anteaters regain control. Hughes had 6 kills in the set.
The Trojans jumped out to a 9-4 edge in the second set and built it to 14-7, but soon after UCI scored 5 consecutive points to close to 17-16 and then used a 3-0 run to go ahead, 19-18. The teams then took turns taking the lead before a Trojan serving error followed by a Clark kill ended the extended set. Both teams hit for a high percentage in the set, UCI at .377 and USC at .347, as Clark and Ciarelli each had 10 kills.
UC Irvine scored 5 of 6 points to build a 12-8 lead in the third set, but USC slowly fought back to tie it at 19-19 and went ahead at 21-20. USC had set point at 24-23, but a McDonnell block followed by a Clark kill put the Anteaters back in charge, setting the stage for the match's final point, which came on an ace by McDonnell on the subsequent serve. UCI hit .324 in the set and had 14 digs.
"It was a great match," said UC Irvine head coach John Speraw. "Everyone will see it was 3-0 but everyone knows how close it really was all the way through. We didn't get rattled and stayed very poised when we were down big in the second set. It was a tight emotional first game and we took a breath there. I think when we won that second game it was real tough for them. It's hard when you have a lead and then you're down 0-2. In the third we had lots of opportunities to take a big lead. We got tight and got down and I thought we'd be going four here. Then we had some key plays. This was a good night for volleyball. Obviously I'm biased because we won, but the one stat I don't see on this box score here was that we had 9,612."
Said Clark: "The guys passed really well and that made it easy on (setter) Chris Austin. Chris set me probably the best match all year. I didn't do much, he made it easy for me. I can't thank him enough for that."
Added Austin: "Carson's the man. I never worry that the ball will get put away. He's great as a team leader."
"We're disappointed to come up short in this match," said USC head coach Bill Ferguson. "Congratulations to Irvine. They were the better team tonight. We were putting ourselves in position to win. We gave up too many big runs from the service line. I wanted to win this match really badly, but if I take a step back and get realistic, I'm unbelievably proud to be here. We were not the most talented team I've had since I've been here, but we worked and grinded and played vollleyball the right way. I thought the level of play was unbelievable. And the fan support for both teams was unbelievable. I don't think there's ever been an atmosphere like that for a national championship game. We took college volleyball to a new level tonight, and that's something we're very proud of.
Said Ciarelli: "I thought it was pretty clear that UCI was the better team. You have to give all the credit to them. They really peaked at the end of the season. People may see this as a three-game sweep, but I don't see that at all. Two deuce sets is amazing for us against that team."
Also making the NCAA All-Tournament team were Joe Sunder of Penn State and Geoff Powell of Lewis, whose teams lost to UC Irvine and USC, respectively, in Thursday's (May 3) NCAA semifinal matches.