MALIBU — The road to a potential third straight national championship  has begun somewhat tenuously  for the UC Irvine men's volleyball team.  But some of that has to do with, well, playing on the road.

In the fifth of their six straight road matches to open the season, the Anteaters, who began the season ranked No. 1 nationally but slipped to No. 3 after falling at Loyola of Chicago last week, dropped their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation opener, 25-21, 25-21, 23-25, 25-19, to an amped-up Pepperdine squad that had yet to play an official match until Friday.

The No. 6-ranked Waves, who had split four exhibition matches against Canadian teams, used determined defense and efficient offense to trounce the two-time defending NCAA champions (3-2), who are still looking for a consistent go-to hitter, Coach David Kniffin said.

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"[The Waves] were pretty good tonight," Kniffin said. "We were putting some pace behind our hits and they kept coming up with some unbelievable digs, and converting just about all of those. That was a lot of Pepperdine playing great volleyball."

Pepperdine, which posted 44 digs to 29 for UCI, hit .378 as a team, 113 points better than the 'Eaters. Josh Taylor, a 6-foot-7 junior outside hitter,  led the winners with 24 kills, while hitting .486.

Parker Kalmbach, a 6-7 junior middle blocker and opposite, contributed 18 kills with a .469 percentage to help junior setter Matt West collect 51 assists.

West had a match-high 12 digs, two more than Pepperdine junior libero Brennan Anderson, a Corona del Mar High product.

UCI, which substituted liberally to try to find a winning combination, was led by junior opposite Zack La Cavera who totaled 10 kills. La Cavera, however, hit .174 on 23 swings and senior outside hitter Connor Hughes hit .192  with eight kills on 26 swings.

Senior middle blocker Scott Kevorken had seven kills and hit .538 and fellow middle Collin Mehring added six kills with a .333 hitting percentage. Both had 2.5 total blocks to provide half of UCI's production in that category.

Junior Travis Woloson came off the bench early in the second set to record eight kills with a .316 hitting percentage. He earned praise from Kniffin as UCI's most consistent performer.

"There were some tentative moments for us tonight," said Kniffin, whose squad visits USC on Tuesday before opening its home schedule on Friday against BYU. "As I'm looking at the team, there is not one specific individual [that is the problem], but it's a lot of guys that haven't been the guy. The one guy I thought played great tonight was Woloson. Tonight, he brought a lot of what we needed to the court."

Woloson stepped in for Jeremy Dejno at outside hitter, while Daniel Stork pushed starting setter Roberto Frazzoni to the bench to open the third set.

Kniffin also called upon Tamir Hershko, a 6-6 freshman from Isreal, who had three kills on four swings for a .750 clip.

Stork, a part-time starter the last two seasons who is coming back from offseason hip surgery, had 24 assists, three more than Frazzoni, a junior newcomer from Chile.

Kniffin said it's all part of developing a championship contender, something that the pollsters and preseason pundits add nothing but lip service.

"I'm always intrigued by people who say, you are the preseason No. 1, so they wonder if you are going to  go undefeated and three-peat and all this," Kniffin said. "But those are usually people who have no idea what MPSF volleyball is all about."

UCI never led in the opening set, but squandered a 12-8 advantage in the second set. After winning the third set, the visitors fell behind, 4-1, in the final set and never recovered.