No. 5 UCI’s Men’s Volleyball team lost 2-3 to No.14 UCSD Tritons in a five set heartbreaker (20-25, 25-22, 26-28, 25-16, 12-15) in the first match of the Big West Conference play last on Saturday, Feb.15.
The Tritons were looking for their first Big West Conference victory in program history. They have a combined 0-20 record in the last two years.
The match started with a missed serve by UCI redshirt freshman Patrick Vorenkamp, who finished with 16 assists. This was the first of 19 total missed serves for the Anteaters, which affected the rest of their night.
UCSD junior Kyle McCauley’s red hot arm led the team that night with 24 kills, making the score 4-0. The Anteaters were not able to climb back from an early deficit but did have some nice plays that showed promise for the next set.
A missed serve by the Tritons opened the second set. This time, Vorenkamp’s “float serves” caused issues to the Tritons’ defense, which allowed the Anteaters to start 3-0. Senior Scott Stadick continued his defensive domination at the net by blocking the tough Triton attack, overall hyping his teammates. With the score tied at 20-20, the Anteaters were ready to close the set with a positive response after the timeout. The next five points for Irvine were fought with high energy and focus.
A highly contested seesaw battle occurred in the third set. The Anteaters fell behind early 5-3. This prompted sophomore Brian Garcia to substitute Vorenkamp in the setter position. The offense adjusted nicely to Garcia on the court.
“I just kept encouraging myself and then I ended up going on a good groove,” said Garcia about coming off the bench midgame. He finished with 25 assists.
Garcia quickly found a connection with junior Joel Schneidmiller and redshirt sophomore Alexandre Nsakanda allowing the Anteaters to get back in the game point by point. The teams traded points until the score was tied 26-26. However, the Triton offense led by McCauley once again overpowered the Anteaters to edge out a crucial third set victory.
The Anteaters knew that they needed to take care of business in the fourth set to force a deciding fifth set. With the score tied at 13-13, the Tritons were threatening to go on another offensive run before hitting the ball out of bounds. This gave the Anteaters the point. Before the next serve, Garcia reminded his teammates about their point to point mentality by taking it a play at a time starting with the serve.
“I feel like when we get a good serve in that is when we take over games. Even though [UCSD] made mistakes, with a good serve we start blocking and playing defense better. That is our fire,” Garcia said on the importance of a serve.
Behind senior JB Kam’s topspin jump serves, the Anteaters went on a six point run capitalizing on scrappy defense, tight blocking and consistent execution on offense. Schneidmiller displayed his powerful right arm swing with an emphatic kill over the high Triton block electrifying the team and crowd. The Anteaters won the fourth set 25-16.
“That’s when we went on a huge run serving wise. We served tough, nothing crazy. JB [Kam] is a great server and he could have served it harder if he wanted to, but he just maintained it and moved the ball around. That is what really got UCSD in trouble,” said Nsakanda, who finished with 12 kills and an ace.
In a set to 15 points, both teams could not afford to dig themselves into an early deficit. Kam continued his dominance from the service line allowing his team to go up 2-0.
Quickly as that lead appeared, it vanished. The Tritons went back to their offensive weapon, McCauley, and pushed ahead 9-6. The Anteaters never put their heads down as they tried to gain back the momentum by playing hard until the last point.
“We just try to establish that point to point mentality. If we don’t side out at the end of the rally, we come into a huge circle, talk to each other and say point to point,” said Nsakanda on not giving up in the fifth set.
The Anteaters battled for every point in the set. They did not want to let each other down. Garcia said that the teammates fight for each other.
A small comeback was brewing in the final stages of the game with a kill by Stadick to fight off the first match point. However, McCauley’s high flying attack sealed the upset for the Tritons with a 15-12 fifth set victory.
Stadick added nine blocks and seven kills from the middle of the court for the Anteaters. Redshirt sophomore AJ Faille led the team with 11 digs. Schneidmiller led the Anteaters with 21 kills while also adding eight digs and a couple of aces.
This was the Anteaters’ (7-5, 0-1) first game back from a four-game road trip where they won three out of four matches. The Tritons (11-3, 1-0) now have won their last four consecutive matches all in the month of February.
The two teams met again in San Diego on Feb. 21 and the Tritons won 3-0. The Anteaters will played at Concordia on Feb. 25 and lost. Then came home to face Grand Canyon University on Feb. 28 and won, ending their losing streak. They are now, 8-7 overall. Up next, the Anteaters play North Greenville Friday (Mar. 6) at 11:00 a.m. PT and then Grand Canyon University again (Mar. 7) at 5:00 p.m. PT in Phoenix.
Christopher Piazza is a 2019-2020 Sports Intern. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org