‘Bows rally to beat UC-Irvine, clinch playoff spot in MPSF

Hendrik Mol & Siki Zarkovic // Hawaii Athletics

The University of Hawai’i men’s volleyball team clinched a postseason berth into the eight-team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament with an improbable, come-from-behind, five-set victory over No. 14 UC Irvine in a rematch at the Stan Sheriff Center. Set scores were 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-23, 15-11.

The Rainbow Warriors (14-9, 9-9 MPSF) secured a spot into the tournament by outlasting the Anteaters in five sets for the second straight night. UH did so with its best offensive output of the season, hitting a season-high .475 in a match that lasted nearly three hours.

Freshman opposite Stijn van Tilburg recorded a career-best 27 kills while senior outside hitter Sinisa Zarkovic tallied 25 kills for the second straight night. van Tilburg hit .479 while Zarkovic posted his first double-double of the season and seventh of his career with 13 digs while hitting at a .537 clip.

Outside hitter Kupono Fey chipped in with 12 kills, six digs, and four blocks. Setter Joe Worsley dished out 59 assists along with 10 digs. Brett Rosenmeier came off the bench and recorded three timely aces.

Michael Saeta led the Anteaters (8-17, 5-13) with 18 kills, hitting .359.  Thomas Hodges added 16 kills (.448) while Jason Agopian recorded 12 kills (.647) and five blocks. Irvine, which hit .427 as a team, had one match point in the third set but could not close out the match, which featured two deuce sets and a combined 224 points.

UH trailed for the first half of Set 1 before van Tilburg got hot with a pair of kills sandwiching an ace to tie it at 16. The teams traded points until back-to-back kills by Zarkovic and van Tilburg gave UH the advantage at 21-20. But the Eaters answered right back with three straight points including consecutive kills by Kyle Russell and Agopian. After a UH point, Agopian’s fifth kill gave UCI the 25-23 victory.

UCI jumped out to a 12-8 lead in Set 2 and led throughout until the Warriors caught them at 21 following an ace by Rosenmeier and kill by Fey. The teams traded points with the Warriors erasing two set points until Russell’s eighth kill gave the Eaters the 27-25 victory.

Irvine pulled ahead 23-20 late in Set 3 after a four-point run that included a pair of blocks. But the Warriors rallied with three straight points capped by a Rosenmeier ace. UH erased one match point at 24-23 before getting set point of their own after a Frank kill and UCI hitting error. Fey ended the rally with a kill to send it Set 4.

Down 11-7 in Set 4, the Warriors used an 8-2 run which included three kills by Zarkovic for a 15-13 lead. The teams traded leads three times until another ace by Rosenmeier gave UH a 20-18 lead. The Warriors extended their lead to 22-19 after kills by van Tilburg and Zarkovic but the Eaters closed to within 23-22. An Irvine attack error gave Hawai’i set point and an Anteater service error sent the match to a fifth set.

UH jumped out to an early 7-3 in Set 5 after stringing together three straight points including a kill by Fey and block by Frank. Hawai’i led 11-7 after a Franciskovic dump and the Warriors sided-out the rest of the way, which was capped by a Worsley-Frank-Fey triple block.

UH returns to the continent for its final regular season road trip at UC Santa Barbara, April 1 and 2 before returning home to host California Baptist, April 8 and 9.

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