The No. 14 UC Irvine Anteaters (2-11, 2-6) fell to the No. 3 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos (10-4, 5-3) with a 0-3 match (18-25, 19-25, 19-25) again at the Bren Events Center on Saturday, April 3. Irvine has failed to take a win in their last six matches, half of which were against Santa Barbara.
Throughout the three bouts against UCSB in the past week, Irvine’s hitting statistics have taken a sharp decline. In their first match, senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller had 18 kills. In Friday’s game, redshirt junior opposite Alexandre Nsakanda had just 11 kills. In this match, Schneidmiller terminated the ball only nine times.
Despite Santa Barbara’s constant domination of UCI this season, Saturday’s match was still a close contest.
The first set began with Irvine leading with two immediate kills by Schneidmiller, who’s been the Anteaters leading hitter for the majority of the season. UCI redshirt senior middle blocker Sean Dennis showed his offensive skills on the court on Saturday with a kill from the middle followed by an ace at the service line, 5-1.
Along with Schneidmiller and Dennis, this match was the last home game for graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick and graduate student libero AJ Faille. Stadick was tonight’s second-leading scorer with six kills while Faille led the Irvine defense with eight digs.
After numerous unforced errors by the Anteaters, a recurring theme this season, Santa Barbara was given the opportunity to tie it up, 7-7, after multiple kills by senior opposite Randy DeWeese.
Senior outside hitter Roy McFarland became a dominating force at the net for UCSB. McFarland was tonight’s top-scoring player for both teams with 10 kills overall. He led the Gauchos with a nine-point scoring run to take the lead at 16-9.
Before the first set concluded, Schneidmiller was able to get in a couple of explosive kills from the left side to make the score 19-13, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. After several exchanged service errors, the set ended with a missed serve by the Anteater’s freshman setter Dylan Zhai, giving the win to Santa Barbara at 25-18.
The next set had the potential for an incredible comeback story for the Anteaters. This set was a close game marked by many scoring runs. Schneidmiller’s powerful hits kept Irvine afloat in this match after falling behind mid-way through the set.
Down by three points, Schneidmiller took control and began unleashing his strength to get the lead back for the Anteaters at 12-11. After a dual block by freshman outsider hitter Francesco Sani and Dennis, Irvine tied at 13-13.
However, the Gauchos were quick to gain back their lead after two back-to-back kills by sophomore outside hitter Ryan Wilcox and DeWeese, who topped it off with an ace, pushing the score in Santa Barbara’s favor, 18-16.
Irvine gave up their chance at the game with too many unforced attack errors, giving the Gauchos the opportunity to break away with their left side kills. The set ended with another service ace on redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis by UCSB’s senior setter Casey McGarry, 25-19.
The third and final set started off rough for the ‘Eaters with another attack error at the net by Schneidmiller. Nevertheless, after getting possession back, Schneidmiller unleashed an ace from the service line to give Irvine a one-point lead, 2-1.
Both teams exchanged massive kills for the following five points, but a kill from the middle by Stadick and a rare attacking error from the Gauchos put UCI in the lead again at 6-4. Still, Santa Barbara was determined to get it back with a huge block on Schneidmiller to tie the score at 7-7.
Next, UCSB began utilizing their power senior middle blocker Keenan Sanders, who crushed two kills and added a block assist to give his team the lead at 10-8. The ‘Eaters weren’t going to give up that easily though. Sani pounded a kill from the left side after an assist by Zhai, who had 28 assists overall this match. Again, Sani displayed his determination to win with a block assist to tie it up, 10-10.
However, UCSB’s forceful hits backed by their ball control were too much for Irvine to get back the lead. Coupled with UCI’s plethora of unforced errors, the kills from the Gauchos were able to break away at 18-14.
The match concluded with a kill by Gaucho freshman middle blocker Donovan Todorov after yet another service error by Sani to end it at 25-19.
Overall, the Gauchos simply had a better hitting percentage and were much more controlled behind the service line despite UCI’s better blocking. While Irvine had 20.4% hitting, UCSB had 29.5%. Irvine also had a whopping 13 service errors overall while the Gauchos had nine. UCSB also out-aced the ‘Eaters with nine aces, compared to Irvine’s three.
The Anteaters continue to look for a win before the conclusion of their 2021 season. The Men’s Volleyball team will face off once more against the University of Hawaii in two away matches on April 16 and 17. Streaming information has yet to be released.
Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.