No. 7 UCI Men’s Volleyball team defeated No. 8 Grand Canyon University Antelopes, 3-1 (25-17, 25-23, 24-26, 25-18) on Feb. 28 at the Bren Events Center.
In a battle of top 10 teams, the Anteaters (8-7, 0-2) were poised to stop a four game skid to get back in the win column. The Antelopes (12-5, 4-2) came into the match with their highest national ranking in program history, following upsets against UCLA and Pepperdine University.
The Anteaters started the first set with a high-tempo attack led by Redshirt sophomore Alexandre Nsakanda and Freshman Akhil Tangutur. GCU took the lead at 5-4. This was short lived as Nsakanda crushed a ball into the corner to tie it up. Tangutur — who made his first career start — teamed up with Redshirt junior Sean Dennis at the net for a massive block of GCU’s Redshirt freshman Camden Gianni’s kill attempt to put their team in front.
Since Tangutur made the start at outside hitter JB Kam switched roles from a hitter to libero. This lineup had been tested and showed promise during a previous match.
“We talked about it a little. We went to Akhil on the outside during the UCSD game and we were confident with him and how he showed up tonight. I have always been a defensive minded player, so it was a sort of easy switch for me, but it’s crazy to see how big our block is and how hard we make it for hitters. I just play around that and it makes it a lot easier,” Kam said. Kam finished with 11 digs and six assists.
With Kam holding down the back row, Redshirt freshman Patrick Vorenkamp set his hitters with ease on the way to a first set victory. Vorenkamp finished with 36 assists and 11 digs.
GCU’s Gianni and sophomore Christian Janke led their attack in the second set, jumping into a 18-14 lead. The Anteaters did not let the set slip from their hands, they clawed their way back in with hard serving, defense and offensive execution. A four point run — highlighted by three straight blocks from senior blocking-machine Scott Stadick — allowed the Anteaters to draw even at 18-18.
With all the momentum, the Anteaters used kills by junior Joel Schneidmiller and hitting errors by the Antelopes to come away with the come from behind second set victory.
In the third set, the Anteaters got out to an early 5-2 lead. In just a matter of time, the Antelopes used Gianni and Janke to get right back into the lead. Gianni and Janke finished with 17 and 13 kills.
The Anteaters tied the set at 14-14 with a scrappy rally. Vorenkamp dove to save the ball from touching the ground allowing Nsakanda to deflect it up for Stadick who tipped it over the net with his elbow. GCU attempted to finish the play with an attack, but was dug by Nsakanda, leading to a Schneidmiller kill set up by Kam.
Unfortunately for the Anteaters, they only managed to keep the set close before GCU gained the offensive upper hand and won on an ace by Redshirt sophomore Hugo Fischer.
The Anteaters looked to finish business in the fourth set as they trailed only once in the beginning. The Antelopes continued to find success in their back row attack spearheaded by Gianni and Janke. However, the Anteater block led by Stadick finally stopped GCU from finding any more success from the back row. This dashed the Antelopes’ chances of forcing a fifth set.
“We knew they were going to have their fair share of kills, but Scott had them a few times. We knew that he was going to get them in the clutch time. We waited until the fourth set and we got one big block and from there we got into their [GCU] heads,” Tangutur said.
GCU’s Gianni tried one last effort to miraculously get the Antelopes back in the game from the serving line, but he served the ball into the net, giving the Anteaters the match victory.
This finally put an end to a four game losing streak, which gave the team more confidence for when Big West play resumes in a couple of weeks.
“It was a good reset to remember how it feels and how we need to play to keep going. It created momentum to keep going. We have some big games coming up so it was a lot of help and it gave us confidence,” Kam said.
The fourth set showed how the Anteaters maintained early leads and managed the rest of the game. They stayed consistent on offense by keeping the ball in play and finding holes through the GCU block. On defense, the Anteaters took care of the ball through a strong serve, receive and block. The team totaled 13 blocks to GCU’s 11 blocks.
Nsakanda led the team with 19 kills followed by Schneidmiller’s 13 kills. Stadick put on another blocking clinic as he finished with nine blocks. In his first start, Tangutur completed a double-double with 10 kills and 10 digs.
This match supported World Rare Disease Day, celebrated on Feb. 29. Spectators were encouraged to wear denim to show support for the cause.
The Anteaters took a trip out to the desert and swept North Greenville 3-0 on March 6. A rematch with the Antelopes on March 7 saw the Anteaters win 3-2. They are now, 10-7 overall. The next home game will be on March 13 against Penn State.
Christopher Piazza is a Sports Intern for the 2020 winter quarter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.