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UCI Men’s Volleyball Team Falls to UCSD After Another Five-Set Face-Off

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The UC Irvine Anteaters Men’s Volleyball team (1-5, 1-1) took on the UC San Diego Tritons (1-5, 1-1) and lost 2-3 (16-25, 26-24, 26-28, 25-21, 7-15) at the RIMAC Arena on March 12. After the previous night’s win, the ‘Eaters came into this back-to-back game against San Diego with hopes for another victory. Unfortunately, UCI was unable to triumph over this five-set battle. 

The first set of the match began with a kill from the middle by UCSD junior middle blocker Shane Benetz. It was his first of 11 kills for the match. 

The two teams were neck-and-neck during the majority of set one. The Anteaters and the Tritons exchanged unforced errors both behind the service line and at the net. However, Irvine continuously struggled and kept giving points to San Diego, who profited off of tooling the massive UCI block.

UCSD redshirt sophomore outside hitter Ryan Ka displayed his defensive dominance in the first set. Ka blocked UCI senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller’s power tip. Ka’s offensive skills were also showcased early in the match as he used smart and powerful swings to get the ball into and over the ‘Eater block. 

After a tool off of UCI graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick, Ka set the score to 19-9 for the Tritons. Shortly after Irvine got possession back, a missed serve by freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani handed the first set to San Diego at 25-16.

The second set started off with another missed serve out of the gate by UCSD senior outside hitter Kyle McCauley. Quickly, he redeemed himself with an incredible line hit that missed the block to make the score 5-4 with UCSD trailing by one. 

Schneidmiller and Sani kept Irvine in the lead with deep corner and angle shots, but San Diego’s Ka refused to let them score too many points. Ka unleashed a hard angle shot that sailed past Stadick’s block, which led to a back-and-forth of blocks until Ka completed the point. 

UCI then began making several unforced errors, such as Schneidmiller’s unfortunate foot fault from the service line that followed a successful deep corner kill. 

Redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis shifted the tide for Irvine as he rotated to the front row. Gillis scored on an angled attack from the outside, then went back to serve an ace. This caused the Tritons to call a timeout when they were at a three-point deficit, 23-20. 

Despite the Triton’s best efforts to stay in the game with their unwavering defense, Schneidmiller’s explosive hits from the pin that were backed by Sani’s aggression at the net gave the Anteaters the second set victory, 26-24. 

The third set proved to be exhausting with several players running down balls and hitting the floor during hard-fought rallies. 

Using Ka’s variety of swings, the Tritons kept the ‘Eaters on their toes as they struggled to pick up most of Ka’s power and strategy shots. After a mighty swing straight through the Irvine block, Ka was the first player of the night to reach double digits kills and bumped the score up to 9-3. 

Schneidmiller countered with his own thunderous force in the third set as he continued to find success for a majority of his kills with bic hits from the back row. However, Ka suddenly became a beast at the net and had back-to-back-to-back blocks on Schneidmiller, redshirt sophomore middle blocker Patrick Vorenkamp and Sani. 

Unexpectedly, both team’s defenses shifted from controlled to sloppy. Ball control fell by the wayside as players on both sides of the net struggled to get their passes to the setter. Even at the net, the teams made strange plays. After a soft block for the Anteaters, Vorenkamp instinctively swatted the ball back over to the Triton side. This resulted in a tip kill, 6-9. 

The momentum shifted for the ‘Eaters as substitutions were made and Gillis came up front row to dominate on the left-side. UCI redshirt junior opposite/outside hitter Alexandre Nsakanda was unstoppable on the right-side and Vorenkamp began shutting down Ka at the net with his enormous block, 14-19. 

With this momentum shifted in the favor of UCI, the Tritons started to lose confidence and began making several unforced errors. However, Ka was determined to stop the Irvine scoring run; he soon scored a kill and a tool off Vorenkamp’s block, 18-21. 

The final moments of the third set were marked by some amazing, yet exhausting rallies. This was followed by exchanged missed serves into the net, proving how drained the players felt. After Gillis missed long on an angle shot, UCSD took the third set at 26-28. 

The fourth set of the match started with Stadick’s eighth kill of the night, which was returned by an across the shoulder shot made by Triton’s own middle Benetz, 1-1. Irvine slowly began to break away with Schneidmiller’s power kills from the front and back row. Schneidmiller unleashed a remarkable 10-footer after a delayed set by freshman setter Dylan Zhai. He then went to the back row to crush back-to-back kills. 

Nsakanda was also an incredibly powerful hitter from the back row and demolished many sets from behind the 10-foot line. The Tritons struggled to find and put up a block against these back row hits. 

Ka kept UCSD in the game with his hard angle shots that were combined with his deep corner shots in the corner; however, it wasn’t enough. After a complete roof by Vorenkamp’s block, the Anteaters earned their set victory at 25-21. This sent the match into a deciding fifth set.

The final set was the only game of the night that wasn’t close in scoring. San Diego broke away early in the set with repeated kills by Ka from the outside. The energy from the Triton bench was also a significant advantage for keeping the team hyped, which Irvine lacked. 

Benetz earned a jaw-dropping kill from the middle — a power trick shot in which he faced his entire body to Zhai but turned his wrist away to shoot to the right instead. This landed him a kill on an unexpecting Vorenkamp who was playing defense back row. 

UCSD senior opposite hitter Collin Shannon suddenly began making some intense kills from the right-side, which UCI wasn’t anticipating. After Sani missed long on a serve, the match went to San Diego, 7-15. 

Top scorers for the ‘Eaters tonight were Schneidmiller with 17 kills, Gillis with 14 kills and Sani with 13. For the Tritons, Ka had an incredible 25 kills, followed by McCauley with 13 and Benetz with 11. Benetz was also the best blocker of the night with one solo block and six block assists. This was triple the amount that UCI’s best blocker, Vorenkamp, was able to get. 

The Anteaters took on the CSUN Matadors for another Big West Conference matchup at the Bren Events Center on March 20 and March 21. UCI won the first match 3-1, and dropped the second match 1-3. 

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