Updated at 5:02 p.m., Thursday, May 3, 2007
IPFW upsets Pepperdine, faces Irvine in volleyball final
By Rusty Miller
Moments after his IPFW Mastodons upset top-seeded Pepperdine 3-1 tonight to advance to the NCAA men's volleyball finals, he said, "Now I'll have to cancel my tee time tomorrow morning."
UC Irvine coach John Speraw will also have to break any engagements he had. His Anteaters got even with Penn State for a loss in the semifinals a year ago by beating the Nittany Lions 3-1 in the semis on Thursday night.
"We were fortunate to play Penn State because we all wanted a little retribution for last year," Speraw said.
The Mastodons (23-7) won 27-30, 30-27, 30-27, 30-25 over the Waves (26-3), who had won 23 matches in a row before losing their final two. The Waves fell to Irvine in their conference final on Saturday.
The school with the acronym for a name it represents the school's affiliation with Indiana and Purdue universities and its hometown of Fort Wayne has qualified for six NCAA final fours but had never before won a semifinal.
Several hundred fans in the crowd of 2,148, wearing Arnie's Army camo T-shirts in honor of Ball, made the 150-mile trip from Fort Wayne to support the fourth-seeded Mastodons.
"We knew we were playing for everyone," said second-team All-American C.J. Macias, who had 24 kills. "We wanted everyone to be proud."
Brock Ullrich added 20 kills and Jason Yhost had 18 for the Mastodons. Colin Lundeen had 64 assists.
"It was such a tribute to all the players who have gone through our program," said Ball, IPFW's coach for the past 27 years. "It's nice for an old man, too."
Irvine (28-5) upended Penn State in their rematch by scores of 30-25, 30-22, 26-30, 30-23. Leading the way were first-team All-American David Smith and second-teamers Brian Thornton, Jayson Jablonsky and Matt Webber.
The Anteaters controlled the opening game, playing error-free ball to lead by as many as eight points before closing it out on two winners by Jablonsky, a service ace by Webber and two points by Smith.
"We wanted to get on them quick and slow them down some," Webber said.
The Nittany Lions (22-8) got off to a fast start in game two, only to have Irvine regain the lead when Penn State's second-team All-American Matt Anderson stumbled on a kill and punched the ball into the back row of the crowd at Ohio State's St. John Arena.
Irvine, backed but a small but noisy crowd, trailed early but won the second game behind Webber's nine kills before the Nittany Lions' Luke Murray closed out the third game with a spike and a service ace.
The Anteaters ended it in four without ever trailing, building leads of 10-4, 18-11 and 24-17.
"At the beginning of the season really, at the end of last year we talked a lot about different goals," Speraw said. "We've been able to accomplish all but one. And now we've put ourselves in position to accomplish that."
Webber had 19 kills, Smith had five blocks, Thornton piled up 51 assists and Jablonsky had 11 kills and two service aces.
Max Holt had eight blocks and Matt Anderson 16 kills for the Nittany Lions.
The Waves appeared to knock the Mastodons back on their heels in game one of the first semi, with the power game of first-team All-Americans Paul Carroll and Jonathan Winder leading the way to the win. Carroll, a 6-foot-7 lefty, had five kills and three blocks and fellow first-team All-American Jonathan Winder had 15 assists.
But the Mastodons came back to win the next two games by the same score, with Macias suddenly finding room at the net and putting away power shots.
It was clear that it was IPFW's night late in the fourth game when a hard Carroll slam at the net went off the chest of the Mastodons' Dan McNerney and ricocheted back over the net for the point. McNerney then followed with a service ace for a 23-19 lead.
"It was close but then things just started to go their way," Winder said. "They didn't miss many serves, it didn't seem like to us."