UC Irvine men’s volleyball sweeps Penn State to reach NCAA semifinals

LONG BEACH — The UC Irvine men’s volleyball team lived to fight another day at the NCAA Championships, sweeping Penn State in the quarterfinals Tuesday afternoon at the Walter Pyramid.

The fourth-seeded Anteaters slowly gained separation from fifth-seeded Penn State as the match unfolded and they eventually pulled away for a 26-24, 25-16, 25-19 win.

Irvine (20-10) will meet top-seeded UCLA in the semifinals Thursday evening.

“I feel like, at this point of the season, I’m just fighting for days with these guys,” UCI coach David Kniffin said. “By winning, we get to guarantee at least two more days.”

Hilir Henno had 15 kills and five blocks to lead the Anteaters, who finished with a .284 attack percentage.

The Nittany Lions (23-7) hit just .188 while committing 15 service errors.

“I didn’t enjoy that match as much as I probably should have,” Kniffin said. “That’s the tension I experience sometimes when playing against people I respect.”

Neither team led by more than three points in the opening game.

Henno had a kill at the end of a long rally to give the Anteaters game point at 24-22, but Penn State scored two in a row on a service error and hitting error.

Akhil Tangutur put his spike on the back line from the back row to give Irvine game point again, and Tangutur won a joust at the net after a big dig by Henno to give UCI the opening-game win.

“When I’m in the front row, obviously Hilir gets the majority of our attempts. When he’s in the back row, our offense needs to be spread out a little bit more,” Tangutur said. “I was pretty much one-on-one (with the blocker) both of those times and one tip fell, so I think it’s just a credit to our passing toward the end of the set.”

The Anteaters scored five straight points behind the serve of Brett Sheward to take an 8-2 lead in Game 2.

The Nittany Lions could only get back within four points before Irvine pulled away for the 25-16 victory.

The Anteaters also surged to an early 9-4 lead in Game 3, but Penn State closed the gap this time, tying the score at 10.

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After a service error gave the lead back to the Anteaters, a hitting error by Penn State was followed by a block from Connor Campbell to extend UCI’s lead to 13-10.

The Anteaters increased the advantage to 18-13 before Penn State twice cut the deficit to two.

An off-speed kill by Henno gave Irvine game point at 24-19 before a net violation on Penn State ended the match.

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