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UCI Men’s Volleyball Season Crushed by LBSU in the Big West Championship Quarterfinals

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The No. 6 UCI Men’s Volleyball team (2-14, 2-8) fell for the last time of their 2021 season to No. 3 Long Beach State (7-4, 6-4) by a score of 0-3 (22-25, 19-25, 21-25) during the quarterfinal match for the 2021 Outrigger Big West Men’s Volleyball Championship presented by The Hawaiian Islands at the Simplifi Arena on Thursday, April 22. 

The first point of the match went to Long Beach — a kill made by senior outside hitter Ethan Siegfried kickoffed Set 1. Quickly, Irvine’s redshirt junior opposite Alexandre Nsakanda sent out a lefty kill from the right side to tie it up at one apiece. Shortly after, Nsakanda hit a kill off of an out-of-system bump set by graduate student libero AJ Faille, who had dove after a shanked pass from senior outside hitter Joel Schneidmiller. 

Beach then integrated their middles into the mix for some speedy offense. LBSU redshirt freshman setter Aidan Knipe got one hand on the ball and managed to set up sophomore middle blocker Shane Holdaway. Holdaway then sent a rocket hit to the Irvine side, earning LBSU a one-point lead at 5-4. 

The No. 1 and No. 2 national freshmen recruits faced off at the net, beginning with freshman outside hitter Francesco Sani. Sani delivered a laser beam from the left side. In retaliation, Beach’s freshman outside hitter Clarke Godbold quickly got the control back for his team with a 10-foot bounce kill. 

As both teams exchanged kills at the net, it was obvious that Long Beach was heavily reliant on running their middles to put pressure on the Irvine defense. However, the Anteaters pulled out their own tried and true strategy of tooling the massive blocks to accumulate points. After Sani went high and off the hands of Godbold’s block, the score was tied 9-9 for the ninth time this set. 

A few long rallies followed as players on both sides of the net got more comfortable and confident in the new gym. Additionally, there were no attack errors for either team proving they were neck and neck.

Suddenly, redshirt freshman outside hitter Cole Gillis called on a lift, allowing Long Beach to break away. Redshirt sophomore outside hitter Spencer Olivier started putting more power behind his swings with the comfort of a three-point lead; this made it difficult for the Anteaters to battle back. Sani was massively stuffed by Godbold on the left side, sending the ball straight down on the Irvine side. 

After Olivier missed his hit long, the Anteaters were given the opportunity to regain it. Schneidmiller didn’t hesitate to use this time to pound a ball through Beach’s block; this brought the momentum back for UCI, 12-15. Gillis then secured an ace that dropped onto Beach’s backline, causing LBSU head coach Alan Knipe to call for a timeout.

After the timeout, both teams struggled to find the court with their serves. After three consecutive service errors that went long, Schneidmiller got a point back for the Anteaters by poking the ball into Godbold’s block and swiping left to tool him. LBSU battled back with another stuff block on Gillis’s back row bic hit, which was followed by a block on Schneidmiller from the right side. This resulted in an Anteater timeout. 

UCI head coach David Kniffin sent his players back on the court with rejuvenated energy. Graduate student middle blocker Scott Stadick immediately secured two tip kills for the Anteaters to lessen the scoring gap to 18-21. Nsakanda came to the front row with guns blazing and sent a thunderous hit from the right side that went off the LBSU block, ricocheted off the scoreboard and forcefully went into the gym floor. 

Despite the new determination from the Anteaters that led by Nskanda both at the net and back row, Beach’s defense was too tough to crack, especially with their few point lead. The set ended with an ace by Olivier to give the first game to Long Beach, 22-25.

The second set began with exchanged missed serves that were followed by an exhausting rally. It ended with a strategic Godbold tip that campfired the Anteater side to give Beach a one point lead. UCI called an early timeout after an ace and a back row kill for Beach. The following plays displayed Irvine’s unfortunate trend of creating several unforced attack errors, hindering their ability to accumulate points. 

With that, Beach broke away led by Olivier’s offensive dominance as well as the team’s ability to diversify their shots. After Holdaway secured a middle tip that dropped in the center of the Anteater side, Kniffin called for another timeout. 

UCI turned up the pressure on Long Beach with some powerful offensive swings by Schneidmiller; however, he was ultimately shut down by the Beach’s domineering middle blockers. Still, Stadick was able to get in a couple of blocks of his own before the set ended at 19-25 with a kill by Godbold from the right side for Beach.

The third and final set of the match began with a kill by Beach’s junior middle blocker Simon Andersen, who earned a kill. Irvine sent their own middle blocker into the mix. Freshman middle blocker Connor Campbell kept Olivier’s hits on Beach’s side with his blocking. However, Beach’s setter continued to set the outside until Olivier was blocked by Nsakanda to give Irvine a two-point lead at 5-3. 

Therefore, Long Beach tooled the Irvine block going high off the hands of Irvine’s freshman setter Dylan Zhai. Fighting back were the two leading pin hitters for the Anteaters who began to get creative with their swings, evading the Beach block and causing an increase of energy for UCI. 

Despite this, it was Long Beach that was most successful with hitting variety led by their handful of volleyball players at the net, making it very challenging for Irvine to stay consistent on defense. With yet another go set and kill by Olivier on no blockers, it was evident that Beach’s offense was happening too fast for the Anteaters to adjust; the score was 12-15. 

After another long rally, it was Irvine that got the point from Nsakanda. However, this was followed by a net violation called on UCI’s Campbell. Despite this halt in the Irvine momentum, Beach began to miss their serves short into the net. This gave the Anteaters an opportunity to come back. As a result, Nsakanda secured another kill off the block, causing Long Beach to call for another timeout. 

Beach’s Coach Knipe played a key role in obstructing the Anteater energy by strategically calling timeout just as UCI began to gain any sort of momentum, fearing what the team may do if they had the energy. As the set progressed, it was Long Beach that began missing serves from the backline. This handed points to Irvine, tying it up at 21-21 after Oliver was called on a net violation. 

However, the set went to Beach at 25-21 after an incredible topspin ace by Andersen that was followed by a block by Holdaway. This shut down Nsakanda one last time. Beach took the 0-3 victory, advancing them into the semifinals. On the other side, Irvine concluded the match with their ninth consecutive loss of the season. 

Leading players on the Beach’s side this match were Olivier with 1,818 kills, Siegfried with 10 kills and Godbold with nine kills. Their top blocker was Holdaway with four block assists. For the Anteaters, it was Nsakanda with 11 kills and one solo block, Schneidmiller with seven kills, and Stadick with four kills and one solo block. 

Comparatively, LBSU out-blocked UCI’s seven blocks to four blocks and out-hit the ‘Eaters with 49 to 30 kills. In terms of serving, Beach concluded the match with seven aces while Irvine was only able to obtain one made by Gillis. However, Beach also had nearly triple the service errors at 19 compared to Irvine’s seven missed serves. 

After the match, Schneidmiller and Stadick had a post-match Zoom interview with the New University and discussed the outcome of the game.

“We were right with them pretty much every set, but I think what kind of pushed them away was their service runs,” Schneidmiller said. “They put some good service pressure on us and we couldn’t pass a ball, we couldn’t sideout quick enough.”

This game was the end of UCI’s journey for Big West Tournament play. They will have the rest of the week off in Manoa, Hawaii before heading back to Irvine to mark the end of their 2021 season. 

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