The No. 8 UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball team (0-2) faced the No. 2 University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-0) in their second game of the season at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 22. Hawaii finished off the night with a 3-0 victory (25-14, 25-13, 28-26) despite a late comeback effort by the Anteaters in the third set.
Just like in their previous matchup the evening before, the Rainbow Warriors looked to find success against the Anteaters from behind the service line. In order to curb Hawaii’s intense offensive attacks, UCI head coach David Kniffin started sophomore Akhil Tangutur over sophomore Davis Lau in the back row as the libero.
“We gave up 10 aces and another five or six overpasses, and one or two more unsettable balls off of our serve-receive game last night,” Kniffin said. “Now, those weren’t all from Davis [Lau] obviously, but just the idea of changing the libero was really about seeing if we could change the passing rhythm a little bit.”
Tangutur was tested on the first Hawaii jump serve of the match, but he was able to receive it without much trouble. This allowed UCI junior setter Brian Garcia to assist redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis’ opening kill.
The opening points of the first set went back and forth due to both teams’ lack of consistency behind the service line. UCI scored three of their first seven points off of Hawaii’s missed serves, while Hawaii scored three of their first eight points off of UCI’s missed serves.
After Hawaii senior opposite hitter Rado Parapunov was blocked by UCI graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick, Hawaii adjusted their attack by attempting to strategically deflect the ball of the Anteater defense. UCI attempted to make a similar adjustment, but it was not executed and led to several unforced hitting errors. The Anteaters’ swings went wide and long, giving Hawaii the chance to break away with a commanding lead.
The Rainbow Warriors took advantage of the unforced errors and turned a one point margin into a seven point, 18-11, lead. UCI freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani stopped the Rainbow Warriors’ scoring run with a precise kill down the line.
The Anteaters scored two more points before Hawaii finished the set with kills from Parapunov. The first set ended 25-14 for the Rainbow Warriors.
The second set started off with another UCI missed serve. Both teams played at a slower and inconsistent pace compared to the last set; however, Hawaii showed more composure under pressure from the Anteater offense. The Rainbow Warriors used their solid triple block at the net, stifling UCI’s Sani and senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller.
The Anteaters continued to make unforced errors, while Hawaii enjoyed long scoring runs with sophomore setter Jakob Thelle and freshman outside hitter Spyros Chakas controlling the tempo. Chakas recorded a kill on set point, capping Hawaii’s 8-0 run and the 25-13 victory.
The third and final set of the match started strong for the Anteaters with a kill from Stadick off the Hawaii block.
Although passing and unforced errors plagued the Anteaters, the team managed to prevent the Rainbow Warriors from running up the score.
Schneidmiller brought positive energy to the Anteaters with a booming kill from the back row. In the front row, Schneidmiller won a joust at the net against Hawaii’s Thelle to chip into the Rainbow Warriors’ lead, 10-7.
UCI gained momentum after Schneidmiller scored an ace on Hawaii junior libero Gage Worsley. UCI’s Sani continued to work hard at the net and contributed back-to-back kills to decrease the Hawaii lead to 17-14.
The Anteaters continued to stick around in the set by using defense. Schneidmiller and redshirt sophomore middle blocker Patrick Vorenkamp teamed up on an electrifying block on Hawaii senior outside hitter Colton Cowell. This served as the catalyst for the late UCI comeback attempt.
“We were waiting for a trigger to start a fire for us and I think it just happened to be me in the front row instead of Scott [Stadick] at that point,” Vorenkamp said. “Pressed over, got a good block in and from there it just kinda got the ball rolling a bit for us.”
Soon after, UCI used a triple block with Stadick, Sani and junior opposite/outside hitter Jonny Bowles to deny Parapunov and tie the set at 22-22 with the Anteaters looking to jump ahead.
Back-to-back attacking errors from Hawaii’s Parapunov and senior middle blocker/opposite hitter Patrick Gasman, UCI held a 24-22 lead on set point. Hawaii fended off three UCI set points and won in extra points, 28-26, to give them the match victory.
The Rainbow Warriors were led by Parapunov’s 15 kills and two aces. Cowell added 10 kills, while Gasman contributed six blocks. Thelle and Worsley both had eight digs.
Schneidmiller led the Anteaters with 11 kills. Sani in his second career match finished with 10 kills and four blocks. Tangutur had five digs. Middle blockers Stadick and Vorenkamp combined for six blocks.
UCI will play against the UCSD Tritons for their first Big West matchup on Thursday, March 11 at 4 p.m.
Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.