UC Irvine wins volleyball title

LOS ANGELES -- UC Irvine won its third NCAA men's volleyball title Saturday night, sweeping Southern California 25-22, 34-32, 26-24 on the Trojans' home court.

Dan McDonnell ended the match with an ace and Carson Clark had 22 kills and eight digs for top-seeded Irvine (26-5), also the tournament winner in 2007 and 2009.

Clark hit .465 for the match and finished with 25.5 points for the Anteaters, who were facing the Trojans for the fourth time this season.

Tony Ciarelli, the national player of the year, had 18 kills and eight digs for second-seeded USC (24-6). He hit .289 and finished with 20 points.

The Anteaters claimed the first set when Clark's spike was ruled good on a touch call. The Trojans answered by jumping out to a 17-11 lead in the second, but Irvine came back to tie it at 18 on Conner Hughes' kill. The long set was back and forth the rest of the way, but the Anteaters finally won it with Clark's kill on their seventh match-point attempt.

"Everyone will see it was 3-0 but everyone knows how close it really was all the way through," Irvine coach John Speraw said. "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.

The two teams most recently met in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, where the Anteaters snapped the Trojans' 18-match winning streak in the semifinals -- also at USC's Galen Center. Irvine went on to beat Stanford for the tournament title, earning the automatic bid to the NCAA championship.

Top-ranked Southern California -- which claimed the MPSF regular season title -- won an at-large bid.

The two teams solidified their spot in the national championship match with semifinal victories on Thursday night. The Anteaters beat fourth-seeded Penn State 3-1 (18-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-19) before USC downed tenacious Lewis, the third seed, 3-1 (25-18, 25-12, 18-25, 27-5).

"I thought it was pretty clear that UCI was the better team," Ciarelli said. "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."

Southern California has won four national championships, its last in 1990.

"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," USC coach Bill Ferguson said. "We were not the most talented team I've had since I've been here, but we worked and grinded and played volleyball the right way. I thought the level of play was unbelievable. And the fan support for both teams was unbelievable."

The announced crowd was 9,612, the third-largest for a men's championship match.