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A New Season Brings New Changes for UCI Men’s Volleyball Team

After an abrupt ending to last year’s season, the UCI Men’s Volleyball team looks to start up again with the new challenge of adhering to COVID-19 safety procedures. This was something entirely new for all UCI sports teams. As a result, student-athletes learned how to adapt to a new season full of differences. One of those students attempting to make the best out of a less than ideal situation is sophomore outside hitter Akhil Tangutur.

Tangutur, whose hometown is Pacific Palisades, California, had a strong freshman season where he averaged 0.67 kills and 0.42 digs. Before he arrived in Irvine, he went to Pacific Palisades High School where he was selected to be on the 2019 AVCA All-American Watch List. He was also a 2019 honoree in the Volleyballmag Fab 50 and the 2018 CIF Los Angeles City Player of the Year. Outside of high school, Tangutur competed with the USA Volleyball Youth National Team during the summer of 2018 and was a member of the training team for the 2019 FIVB World Championships.

Tangutur and the rest of his team are redirecting their focus to prepare for the upcoming 2021 season after the unfortunate cancellation of their 2020 season. They are working hard at adjusting practices to adhere to the new COVID-19 guidelines put in place. Despite the pandemic, the team is finding ways to continue safe training to help them get better collectively on and off the court. Tangutur discusses the differences between his two collegiate seasons, both personally and what he experienced as a part of the UCI team. 

“The daily practices before COVID definitely involved a lot more team cohesion stuff where we were all trying to actively get better as a unit … but with the new COVID guidelines the biggest way to success is definitely what we can bring to the table when we aren’t all together,” Tangutur said. 

Tangutur’s day-to-day schedule has seen some changes this year with the new restrictions. He highlights his main focuses related to prepping for the upcoming volleyball season.

“I have adjusted my daily routine to really focus on things, like watching film and working on certain movements for the body that I can do on my own … so my body performs at the highest level,” Tangutur said. “Get[ting] ready for practice and lift at UCI … is easily the best part of the day.”

Team chemistry plays a big role in the dynamic of a big group and is challenging in these unprecedented times. However, the UCI Men’s Volleyball team is doing everything in their power to remain connected and strengthen their relationships while also being safe.

“Our team is very special,” Tangutur said. “Regardless of whether we are together or not, we all share a very deep love and care for each other a ton. Over quarantine, we all connect with each other, whether it is through group Facetime, Zoom calls, or even just texting with each other. Doing this just makes the memories on the court even more valuable and we are all just so thankful for the opportunity to be with each other and compete.” 

The Anteaters are going into their 2021 season with some familiar faces, while also rearing after the loss of some others. The team’s leading defensive player Scott Stadick will be suiting up another year. The graduate student middle blocker — who led the nation in blocking with a 2.03 average which earned him the honor of being a Second Team All-American and First Team All-Big West — has taken advantage of another year of eligibility that the NCAA granted to the affected seniors from the previous season. 

However, the team will lose one of their most experienced outside hitters. JB Kam, who averaged 1.54 kills and 1.94 digs per set along with 12 aces and 28 total blocks, graduated last year. This means players like Tangutur will be expected to fill in Kam’s role.

“Having Scott [Stadick] for another year is a huge plus [and] everyone that came back has a whole year of experience under their belt, so definitely the composure and confidence aspect will be … upgraded,” Tangutur said. “I also think that losing a leader like JB [Kam] will be tough, but we also have a bunch of freshmen who are ready to compete and bring great energy to the gym.”

Tangutur is coming into this season with revitalized priorities; he wants to utilize this time to get better at the sport he loves with the goal of winning a championship title.

“Things can go away quickly and can be totally out of our control, but complaining won’t solve anything,” Tangutur said. “The only thing you can do is get better for when the time to play comes again and … my goal over quarantine was just to become a better volleyball player with the resources I have. The goal at the end of the day is to win a national championship and we will do everything in our part to compete for that.” 

For now, the UCI Men’s Volleyball team is slowly adjusting to this new normal and will continue to train in preparation for their upcoming season. 

Harleen Thandi is a Sports Intern for the 2021 Winter Quarter. She can be reached at hthandi@uci.edu.