by Christopher Piazza
Photos Provided by Marlene Wang
No. 5 seed UCI Men’s Volleyball team was defeated by No. 2 seed Brigham Young University Cougars in a non-conference match with a score of 1-3 (17-25, 25-20, 19-25, 15-25) at the Bren Events Center on Jan. 22.
The two former Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rivals faced off in a highly anticipated early season match. The Anteaters (3-3, 0-0), led by head coach David Kniffin, came into the match riding from a two-game winning streak while the Cougars (8-0, 0-0) had yet to lose in the season.
Efficient serving from the Cougars and offensive attacks gave the Anteaters all sorts of difficulties throughout the night.
“We prepared all week for their heat because we knew that Gabi [Fernandez] and [Davide] Gardini got funky serves. Seeing it live is a little bit faster than on film for sure and they blew us up in the first set,” said junior Joel Schneidmiller on preparing for this match.
Despite the loss, the Anteaters were able to counter with an attack led by redshirt sophomore Alexandre Nsakanda with a team-high of 15 kills while Schneidmiller followed with 10 kills.
The first set saw BYU’s power at the service line on full display with sophomore Gardini piling on a couple of aces to jump out to a 6-2 lead. The Cougars kept exploiting the holes in the Anteater’s defense early on in the set to build a lead. However, the Anteaters began to claw their way back into the game with an offensive effort capitalized by senior JB Kam’s first of two aces of the night. Redshirt freshman Patrick Vorenkamp began to find success with Nsakanda soaring out of the right side of the back row for kills giving the team energy for the next set.
In the second set, the Anteaters overcame a quick deficit to jump out to a 6-2 lead led by senior Scott Stadick’s two big defensive blocks, which electrified the crowd. Stadick led the team with seven total blocks as he soared over the BYU hitters at the net and returned the ball back to their side. Vorenkamp and Nsakanda continued their connection on the right side of the court adding to the lead for the Anteaters. This set also saw the Anteaters stabilize the Cougar serves with redshirt sophomore AJ Faille, who had six digs and fired up the defense.
“After the first set, we kind of had a reminder that we needed to go back to our roots and play for each other and play simple. That is why we took the second set,” Vorenkamp said.
Led by junior Fernandez’s 19 kills and three aces, the third and fourth set saw BYU come back with fire. However, the end of the third set was hopeful for the Anteaters as they fought off four straight points to close the gap. Eventually, a service error ended the set.
The fourth set began with both teams trading hard-fought points with a mixture of offspeed hits and tips into holes of each defense. It looked like the Anteaters were coming together to force a fifth set. However, BYU quickly broke the set wide open putting the match to bed. It was a well deserved victory for the Cougars.
For the first time all season, the Anteaters did not lead the match in blocks with 11.0 blocks to the Cougars 12.0 blocks. The reigning Big West Freshman of the Week Vorenkamp had a game-high with 33 assists. The Anteaters were already looking forward to the return match on Friday, Jan. 24 by executing their game plan.
“I am excited for round two on [Jan. 24]. We have seen what they could do live and so we’re just going to prepare hard, show up more confident and ready,” Nsakanda ensured when asked what was to come for the next match.
The two teams met again on Jan. 24 in Irvine with 1,665 fans in attendance. In a much tighter affair, the Anteaters lost again 1-3 (30-28, 25-27, 25-17, 25-27). The majority of the game was played in a back and forth manner with 49 tie scores and 19 lead changes. The Anteaters did lead the match with seven aces, but it was not enough to finish off the high powered Cougars.
The Anteaters return to the Bren for their next home game against cross-town rival Concordia University on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m.