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UCI Men’s Volleyball Falls to the University of Hawaii in 2021 Season Opener

The No. 8 UC Irvine Men’s Volleyball (0-1) team fought hard against the No. 2 University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (1-0), but were unable to pull out the win and fell 3-1 (25-22,16-25,13-25,17-25) at the Bren Events Center on Feb. 21. This was the Anteaters’ opening match and was counted as a non-conference matchup. 

Albeit rusty from a lengthy offseason, a majority of the first set was tightly contested as both teams showed their determination and traded kill for kill. Both teams, however, suffered from behind the service line since many serves sailed out of bounds. 

The Anteaters relied heavily on their outside hitters, and it was no surprise that senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller led the offense. Paired with Schneidmiller’s swings, the UCI defensive block rejected many of Hawaii’s offensive attempts. The Rainbow Warriors found success against the Anteater defense with explosive kills from freshman outside hitter Chaz Galloway and senior outside hitter Colton Cowell. 

The Anteaters began to break away with a lead following a block from redshirt sophomore middle blocker Patrick Vorenkamp, who debuted as a middle blocker after being the Anteaters’ primary setter last season, and another thunderous kill by Schneidmiller. Graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick, who led the nation in blocks last year, recorded his first kill of the night in the deep corner off an assist from junior setter Brian Garcia; this made the score, 21-19.

An unfamiliar, yet powerful, blocking duo composed of UCI’s Garcia and Vorenkamp shut down Hawaii’s Cowell at the net to seal the first set victory for the Anteaters, 25-22.   

Starting the second set, Hawaii eagerly looked for a comeback as the Anteaters still seemed elated about the first. 

Hawaii capitalized off of several unforced errors from UCI and gained a 3-1 lead. Cowell displayed his talent at the net as he made an impressive shot over the huge Anteater block to secure yet another point that started a five-point run for the Rainbow Warriors. 

Now at the service line, Cowell targeted his powerful topspin jump serve at UCI sophomore libero Davis Lau. The Anteater defender had trouble controlling the incoming serves, which led to mishandled passes and aces. Cowell served two aces before a jump serve into the net, which stopped the five-point run and gave the Anteaters their second point of the night, 8-2.

This gave the Anteaters a chance to claw their way back into this set with some momentum shifting and dynamic plays from former UCI starting setter Vorenkamp. With his well-timed attacking approach and strong defensive hands, Vorenkamp won jousts against the opposing middle blocker. 

UCI freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani scored his first career collegiate service ace with a jump serve. Soon after, UCI redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis scored a kill over the block landing inches in front of Hawaii junior libero Gage Worsley. Gillis added a service ace to cut the Rainbow Warrior lead to three, 10-7. 

Hawaii regained momentum, following more UCI unforced errors and poised attacking from Rainbow Warrior senior opposite hitter Rado Paruponov. Cowell continued to torment the Anteater defense with a powerful offensive attack from the back row to increase the Hawaii lead to 20-13. More UCI unforced hitting and service errors gifted Hawaii a win in the second set, 25-16.

UCI’s Schneidmiller was the only player who ended with more than 10 kills in the match, while Hawaii’s Cowell accumulated nine and Galloway with seven. 

Hawaii began set three the way they ended set two; Cowell commanded the steady and composed Rainbow Warrior offense. He also continued to find success with his serves — Cowell finished players with 13 kills and five aces.  

The Anteaters had trouble finding quick and efficient ways to score against the strong Rainbow Warrior defense. UCI’s Sani and Gillis saw their kill attempts blocked numerous times and had to resort to hitting and tipping offspeed balls. However, it was not enough to get UCI back into the set. Hawaii cruised into the next set with a 25-13 victory. 

Hawaii began the final set of the match with two quick kills that were followed by three points from UCI. Garcia’s only service ace of the game gave the Anteaters an early and short-lived 3-2 lead. 

The Rainbow Warriors regained the lead off of aces from Cowell and senior middle blocker/opposite hitter Patrick Gasman. Suddenly, Hawaii comfortably led 11-5. 

UCI’s Vorenkamp attempted to bring his team back with a block and a kill from the middle. Gillis added another ace from behind the service line and Lau remained defensively composed in the back row; this allowed the team to play within their offensive system. After a kill by Stadick, the score was 19-13 in favor of Hawaii.

Unfortunately, more unforced errors plagued the Anteaters and they dropped the set to 25-17, awarding the Rainbow Warriors their first win of the new season. 

Irvine opened the match well but looked exhausted as it progressed. UCI head coach David Kniffin spoke about his team’s performance during the after game interview.

“Really the objective is to clean up what we’re already doing,” Kniffin said. “The winning and losing of tonight’s match has nothing to do with what we’re not able to do yet, it has everything to do with not doing it consistently what we can already do. Just going back and executing on the things we know we can execute on.” 

Schneidmiller spoke about how he aims to head into another tough match against Hawaii for their next game.

“[I’ll] take what I need to from this game and that goes for the whole team,” Schneidmiller said. “We need to be better in a few places and know when to give them props because they’re a good team, they played well. Just forget about this game. Tomorrow’s a new day, a new game, 0-0.”

Hawaii’s Parapunov finished the night with 13 kills, eight digs and two blocks. Gasman had nine kills, two blocks and two aces. Sophomore setter Jakob Thelle dished out 41 assists.

UCI’s Schneidmiller led all players with 17 kills and six digs. Sani had nine kills while redshirt freshmen Gillis had eight. Garcia had 28 assists.

The Anteaters will face the Rainbow Warriors again on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m., looking to get their revenge from the loss. 

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