The No. 6 UCI Men’s Volleyball team (2-6, 2-11) took on the No. 1 University of Hawaii (8-0, 13-0) in Manoa, Hawaii ending the night with a 3-2 (25-22, 25-23, 23-25, 24-26, 15-13) loss on Friday, April 16.
Set one started off on the wrong foot for the Anteaters, as senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller missed his first hitting attempt. Schneidmiller has been Irvine’s leading scorer for all but two games this season, breaking his career-high of 28 kills against UC San Diego in March.
Hawaii got on the scoreboard first after a kill by senior outside hitter Colton Cowell, but Schneidmiller returned the favor with a cut shot to put Irvine on the board at 2-1.
The Anteaters struggled to compose themselves against the Rainbow Warriors defense, making several unforced attack errors giving them free points. This Irvine team is no stranger to attack errors this season, accumulating 264 just this spring, compared to Hawaii’s 201 attack errors entering the game.
Irvine’s graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick tied up the game for the first time at 12-12 after a huge kill at the net. The set would be tied up five more times. Yet, Cowell was quick to get the ball for the Rainbow Warriors with a forceful back-row hit.
The Anteater’s redshirt junior opposite/outside hitter Alexandre Nsakanda came ready to play this match and slowly started to break down Hawaii’s massive triple block. He went hard off the block as he looked for hands to tool and deflect to successfully earn points for the Anteaters. His fellow teammates began using this strategy as well, tooling the Rainbow Warriors.
Suddenly, redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis made his presence known in the back row with an incredible bic-kill from the back row knocking the wind out of Hawaii freshman middle blocker Guilherme Voss who took the hit in the chest. Soon after, Cowell solo stuff blocked on Schneidmiller to give Hawaii a two-point lead at 17-19.
The Anteaters attempted to regain rhythm with powerful swings at the net, but were unable to go on more than a two-point run due to their service errors at the backline, another issue that has handicapped UCI’s performance in the last several games. Including this match, Irvine has racked up 205 service errors this season. The first set ended with Irvine missing four serves in a row, seven total this game; Hawaii secured the set at 25-22.
The second game began differently for the Anteaters, who were first on the board after Schneidmiller crushed an out-of-system set by graduate student libero AJ Faille. However, the service curse continued as freshman setter Dylan Zhai served into the net and then Rainbow Warrior sophomore setter Jakob Thelle’s serve went long and out.
Irvine’s Gillis came out of nowhere with an insane kill from the outside accompanied by a cut shot by freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani who nailed an unsuspecting senior opposite hitter Rado Parapunov on the head. Hawaii tried to reobtain their lead with a setter dump by Thelle, but Vorenkamp denied it and threw it back on the Warriors’ side to get to point at 6-5, UCI leading.
Sani got back-to-back kills on the right side, powering through the triple block and bouncing line. He went back to serve and missed giving Hawaii a chance to take back the momentum. Cowell showed the ‘Eaters how it’s done with an ace from the service line that Faille wasn’t ready for. Hawaii led 12-10.
After an exhausting rally in which both teams’ offense and defense were incredibly solid, Thelle ended it with a kill on two that the Anteaters weren’t expecting. Nonetheless, Irvine reset but was unable to shut down Cowell who came out firing from the back row to give Hawaii a four-point lead at 20-16.
After exchanging missed serves, Nsakanda brings it back with a kill followed by a dump by Gillis on Hawaii’s overpass to get Irvine back in the game at 22-21. The set ends with a well-placed kill by Parapunov from the right side to give Hawaii the second set at 25-23.
The third set commenced with a kill by Parapunov that was rivaled by a tool of the left side of the Hawaii block by Nsakanda immediately after. Irvine strategized plays with hitting high for hands as well as offspeed roll shots, a Schneidmiller specialty. The senior outside cut it once then followed up with rolling it over the block to get it back for UCI at 9-8.
Sani and Cowell exchanged powerful line kills. Parapunov used Irvine’s strategy against them and tools Vorenkamp who had been out with an injury for the past seven games. Parapunov went back to serve and missed, giving it back to UCI at 13-12.
Stadick got his second kill of the night to make the score 19-18, Irvine still leading. The energy on the Anteater side was revitalized as their front row began to unleash their power onto the Hawaiian defense.
Schneidmiller and Nsakanda secure two more kills before Gillis gets his first ace from the backline that sails into the face of junior libero Gage Worsley. The set goes to Irvine at 25-23 after Cowell misses long on a cut shot.
The fourth set started off with back-to-back kills by Cowell that were quickly returned with a Schneidmiller cross courter and a bounce kill by Stadick in the middle to tie it up. Both teams were on a new level of play this set, thirsting for the win.
After Sani secured yet another kill, Gillis went back to serve and got another ace from a trickle serve that Hawaii couldn’t pick up, 5-4. Irvine proceeded to go on a four point scoring run led by Stadick and Schneidmiller. It was shut down at 11-6 by Cowell who was fed up and decided to tool Stadick’s block.
The Rainbow Warriors offense wavered as Cowell began to lose his power and confidence, missing his serve into the net to make the score 14-8. Parapunov stepped up and got a line kill on Faille; nonetheless, UCI was the first to 15 points for the fourth time this match.
Schneidmiller set his sights on Parapunov and shut him down with a stuff block, but Parapunov simply adjusted and got the next kill. Regardless, Schneidmiller returned the favor with a kill from the left side.
Hawaii closed the score gap and both teams were neck-and-neck for the last few points of the game. However, the set went to Irvine at 26-24 after another incredible block by Stadick on Cowell.
The fifth and final set to 15 points began with a Hawaii ace then a hard tool by Schneidmiller off the block to tie it up at one a piece. A grueling rally turned into a Hawaii point after Zhai shanked an off speed shot by Parapunov.
Hawaii began making unforced errors, opening the door for Irvine to break away, but they made their own errors. Nsakanda got lucky on a touch call after his hit sailed long and out of bounce.
Parapunov was incredible at the net and even picked up a trickle serve and turned it into a powerful cross-court shot that found a way through the Irvine block. Vorenkamp saw the hole, made the adjustment and completely roofed Cowell to tie it up at 6-6.
Both teams exchanged impressive kills, one of which was a point made by Nsakanda after a jaw-dropping dig off of Faille’s right foot to tie it up again at 12. Desperate to get an easy point, Zhai dumped the overpass through the towering Hawaiian block to inch closer to the match point.
After a service error by Vorenkamp, Hawaii secured the last set at 15-13 from a kill by Cowell.
To no surprise, Schneidmiller was Irvine’s top scorer tonight with 20 kills followed by Nsakanda’s 13 kills. Hawaii’s Parapunov finished the night leading his team with 25 kills meanwhile Cowell racked up 17, his season-high.
Irvine’s All-American Schneidmiller told the New University how proud he was to see his team’s improvement over the season.
“Obviously it’s not the outcome we wanted, but I think other than the loss I think we showed. I’m proud of us tonight,” Schneidmiller said. “I think we showed what we’ve been gearing up towards all season and I think if you look at our first game versus Hawaii and to this game I think we’re a completely different team which is something that I’m really happy about.”
Despite the night’s outcome, Irvine played an incredible match against Hawaii. In fact, the ‘Eaters out-hit and out-blocked the Rainbow Warriors. UCI even hit a season-high as a team converting 41.7% of their chances. However, it was the overabundance of service errors that cost Irvine the match with a total of 24 missed serves overall. In the post-match interview, head coach David Kniffin remarked on his team’s serving performance.
“I think some of it is just serving in a new gym,” Kniffin said. “I didn’t see anything as I’m watching the servers technically that I would change or even tactically. I like where they were trying to go with the ball. I think just more repetition in this gym is good for us.”
The Men’s Volleyball team played the University of Hawaii again Saturday, April 17 and lost. They stayed in Hawaii for the 2021 Outrigger Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship, presented by the Hawaiian Islands and lost in the quarterfinals against Long Beach State.
Gina Johnson is a Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.