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Men’s Volleyball Starts Up Their Big West Conference Season Despite the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Big West Conference officially announced on Jan. 29 that the men’s volleyball 2021 spring season would be in effect this year.

Along with men’s volleyball, baseball/softball, golf, tennis, track and field, and water polo were given permission to return to play. Big West Commissioner Dan Butterly released a statement pertaining to the approved spring season. 

“Our focus remains on the health, safety and well-being of our student-athletes and we will continue to evaluate the pandemic’s effect on our ability to provide a safe environment for competition,” Butterly said. “These schedule formats reflect the changes our Big West administrators, coaches and staff felt were necessary in the face of unprecedented challenges.”

With the conference season opener approaching, teams must adhere more strongly than ever to COVID-19 safety precautions. Players, as well as the athletic staff, are required to get tested for COVID-19 three times a week. During games, only required personnel are allowed into the events center. Additionally, there will be no switching sides between sets to limit cross-contamination between opposing teams. 

Although there are many new protocols set in place to adhere to COVID-19 safety, UCI junior opposite/outside hitter Jonny Bowles spoke about the anticipation and appreciation for this upcoming spring season. 

“I think with the cancellation of last season, our team has an enhanced appreciation for the opportunity to get in the gym together and play everyday,” Bowles said. “Our trainings have had great energy and we are excited to play different teams across the net.” 

Another new but expected change to this season will be the lack of fans in the arenas; individuals will not be authorized to sit in to watch any matches.

The 2021 men’s volleyball conference season will feature a 10-match schedule with a two-game series each week. Big West will allow a third match to be scheduled by schools who wish to face off in a non-conference game. Teams are also authorized to compete earlier in the conference schedule as part of scrimmage-like non-conference games if both schools give consent.

UCI and the University of Hawaii did just that and played their first two matches of the 2021 season on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22. The No. 8 UCI Men’s Volleyball team fell to the No. 2 Rainbow Warriors as part of a non-conference two-game series. 

Despite losing to the University of Hawaii, senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller spoke about his excitement to be back on the court in his postgame interview after UCI’s first game of the new spring season on Feb. 21.

“Yeah, obviously we’re super excited,” Schneidmiller said. “One thing that we focus a lot on is just being grateful, because you know last year our season got cut short so we’re just happy to be out there playing volleyball in the Bren. Can’t really complain. We’re definitely pretty hyped up.”

Official conference play begins on March 11 and will run through April 17. UCI, UCSD, Hawaii, CSUN and UCSB will be playing on the opening day of the Big West Conference season; UCI will face off against the UCSD Tritons while CSUN and UCSB will battle Hawaii’s Rainbow Warriors.

Prior to the start of the men’s volleyball conference season, Hawaii was unanimously picked by the American Volleyball Coaches Association as the predicted winner for the championship title. The championship game of the Big West Conference will take place on the University of Hawaii campus at SimpliFi Arena at Stan Sheriff Center from April 22 to April 24. 

Despite the many new modifications to the Big West 2021 season, UCI’s Bowles spoke of his excitement for the upcoming season.

“I just can’t wait to compete,” Bowles said. “As competitors, I know we’ve all been chomping at the bit to play other teams and pursue hoisting a national championship trophy.”  

With a little over a month before this championship game, it is evident that this shortened 2021 season will cause challenges for all participating teams. More schedule information is available on the UCI Men’s Volleyball team website

Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at ginaj@uci.edu.