The No. 6 Anteater Men’s Volleyball team (2-13, 2-8) took a 3-0 loss, adding to their eight-game losing streak, against the No. 1 University of Hawaii (15-0, 10-0) at the SimpliFi Arena on Saturday, April 17.
Hawaii came into the match with overflowing energy as a result of their senior night that honored middle blocker/opposite Patrick Gasman, opposite Rado Parapunov and outside hitter Colton Cowell. Soon after the sound of the whistle, indicating the start of the first set, Parapunov secured the first kill of the night from the right side.
Shortly after, Gasman got an early point from a massive block that denied Irvine access from the Hawaii side of the court. An incredible rally followed, with Anteaters hitting the floor and diving after every ball. It ended in a jaw-dropping bump kill by Irvine’s redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis that fell between Cowell and Hawaii’s junior libero, Gage Worsley.
Anteater redshirt junior opposite Alexandre Nsakanda soon got a huge bounce kill from the right side to show Hawaii that UCI meant business. Compared to the previous night’s game, the energy on the Anteater side was overwhelming. It seemed that the team possessed a newly found urge to win which showed in their determination to chase down every ball.
Rainbow Warrior Chaz Galloway, a freshman outside hitter, was a new presence on the court that Irvine hadn’t faced in the previous match. Galloway’s powerful swings from the left side proved to be an advantage for Hawaii, who was lacking the night before. With that, Galloway secured a massive ten-footer sharp angle shot that pushed Hawaii in the lead, 6-3.
The momentum was in favor of the ‘Bows after Gasman scored several aces, allowing Hawaii to go on a six-point scoring run. Gillis stepped up for the Anteaters, going high for hands and securing a tool to end the rainbow run at 10-4.
Following suit, freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani tooled Hawaii’s signature “Manao roofing company” block on the right side, getting Irvine another sneaky point. This was Irvine’s strategy in both matches against Hawaii and the most effective way for the team to earn offensive points.
Irvine’s senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller showed the team a little flare in his tooling approach and unleashed his power into Hawaii’s setter Jakob Thelle’s block, swiping away at the last second to send the deflected ball out of bounds. Hawaii returned the favor with tools of their own but Cowell sent a full-power shot on the left side to make the score 17-7 for the ‘Bows.
The vitality for the ‘Eaters dwindled in the first set after back-to-back missed serves by Sani and Schneidmiller into the net. Partnered with the University of Hawaii’s “block party” it was challenging for Irvine to go on a significant scoring run and to get back in the game.
Nonetheless, the Anteaters refused to give up and continued to tool the Warriors’ block and to put up huge blocks of their own against the UH offense. Patrick Vorenkamp, a redshirt sophomore setter turned middle blocker, gave Hawaii’s Thelle a slight shock after getting blocked unexpectedly on the right side.
Slowly, Irvine regained some of their energy and went on a four-point scoring run, but ultimately it wasn’t enough for them to close the gap before Hawaii took the win at 17-25.
The second set of the night started strong for the ‘Eaters with a debilitating block by Nsakanda on Galloway. Hawaii struggled to find the court both at the net and behind the service line with a hit that went long and two back-to-back missed serves.
Hawaii eventually retained their momentum with kills led by Parapunov on the left side, but Gillis returned the favor with a powerful swing of his own to tie it up at 6-6.
Schneidmiller came out to play once he got front row and completed an impressive deep shot into the back corner after adjusting to an out-of-system set. He paired it with a massive hit from the right side soon after to make the score 12-11.
Sani showed Hawaii his skills with a ten foot angle bounce from the opposite position followed by a line kill on Worsley, but Hawaii managed to get to fifteen first as they did in the previous set.
With both Patricks facing off at the net, it was Irvine’s Vorenkamp that got a solo stuff block on Patrick Gasman from the middle, denying him another point. Yet, Parapunov requited with his own solo roof on Schneidmiller, making this the first block of the second set for UH.
Despite Irvine’s newfound defensive pressure, Hawaii was able to secure the second set at 25-18 after two forceful kills by Cowell and Thelle at the net.
The final set of the match had Hawaii on the board first with a sharp angle kill by Colton Cowell. Schneidmiller came back with a kill of his own to put Irvine in the game at 3-1. Suddenly, Irvine made unforced attack errors hindering their ability to gain momentum.
Parapunov then went on a serving run gaining five aces for the ‘Bows, one of which nailed an unprepared Schneidmiller in the chest. Sani reverted to tooling the block again to end their scoring run at 12-4. However, Hawaii was still the first to fifteen for the third time due to their consistently powerful offense.
Despite Irvine’s determination to get back in the game, their unforced errors both at the net and at the backline made it challenging for them to gain any traction in the third set. After an ace by Schneidmiller as well as a kill by Sani were challenged and later overturned as out, the ‘Eaters started to lose the liveliness they had in set one.
After a final kill and tool by Cowell, the Warriors took the victory at 25-17 and closed out their senior night with another win and a spotless season record. On the other side, Irvine added to their losing streak.
Irvine’s top player in this game was Sani with nine kills and UCI’s only ace of the match. Following was Schneidmiller with nine kills as well as Nsakanda with six. For Hawaii, Parapunov led with 13 kills and five out of their ten aces of the night.
Despite the loss, head coach David Kniffin commented on how grateful he and the team was as they were able to be out on the road and spent valuable bonding time with one another.
“It’s just so good to get time on the road,” Kniffin said. “We’re playing against so many teams that are so secure in their identity because they’ve got so much relational time and credit in the bank and we’re still making deposits. We’re still kind of figuring out who we are. So we’re really grateful that we’re finally getting an opportunity to create time and I think you’re seeing the fruits of that a little bit, the early fruits of that just in tonight’s game which is cool.”
The Anteaters have been placed as the sixth seed in the Big West Championship. The team will face off against No. 3 Long Beach State in round one of quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. PST at the SimpliFi Arena on April 22.
Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.