Alumnus Joel Schneidmiller pursues volleyball career at UC Irvine

March 14, 2019 — by Chelsea Leung and Alexandra Li

From 2014 to 2017, the boys’ volleyball team rose to new heights under the skills of 2017 alumnus Joel Schneidmiller, a star outside hitter who was perhaps the best male volleyball player in the school’s history.

The 6-foot-6-inch Schneidmiller led the Falcons with his powerful spikes and effective blocks; the team won CCS for the first time ever in 2015 and then again in 2016. They also went to the NorCal championships in 2015 but lost in the first round, returning to take first place in 2016 and 2017.

Now in the middle of his second year with UC Irvine, Schneidmiller, who currently has an undeclared major, trains with the Division 1 Anteaters six days a week, working on all aspects of the game with a heavy focus on defense and passing. The team is currently in the middle of their season and is ranked third in the country behind Long Beach State and Hawaii.

“College volleyball is definitely way more intense and rigorous then club or high school, but that’s what I like about it,” Schneidmiller said. “With so many personalities and competitive people in the gym at once, it can get a little chippy sometimes and frustrating, but I think it’s a good thing.”

Schneidmiller has noticed many differences between his high school and college years, with one being his height. On his old teams at Saratoga High and Bay to Bay Volleyball Club, Schneidmiller was the tallest player; on the Irvine team, however, Schneidmiller’s height does not stand out.

“It was definitely a different level. I was used to be one of the top players, but as soon as I got to Irvine, I saw that everyone who plays D1 volleyball is good,” Schneidmiller said. “What really matters is how much work you put in once you’re here, and that will be the difference.”

Still, Schneidmiller is a valued player on the team; last season, he earned multiple Big West Men’s Volleyball Freshman Player of the Week awards, ending with a season high of 19 kills in a single game.

Every year, the Irvine team’s goal is to win the national championship; last year, they lost in the quarterfinals during the first round of playoffs to Ohio State University. This year, though, Schneidmiller feels that they have a good chance, especially as one of the collectively tallest teams in the country. He said that the main challenge the team has faced this year is learning to trust their other teammates and coaches.

Schneidmiller added that the team is focusing on simple and repeated exercises to improve their ball handling. For example, they continuously pass the ball and touch the ground between passes to improve their control of the ball in game settings. They also work on partner dives, where one person tosses the ball to another just out of reach so the other player has to dive for it, which helps with diving and overall skill.

Among other special equipment, the Anteaters have a machine that can serve balls up to 70 mph, allowing them to practice for the serves they can expect to see from the other top teams.

Going into college, Schneidmiller sometimes found it difficult balancing academics and sports but said that the staff at Irvine have helped him select classes and manage the academic workload.

Schneidmiller noted that while going on travel tournaments sometimes makes it difficult to keep up in classes, the players notify their professors of the conflict dates at the beginning of each quarter, usually resulting in lenient professors and makeups. Tests are also occasionally proctored on the road or taken with a coach in a hotel room; Schneidmiller said that overall, they have “enough time to finish the work that needs to done.”

Reflecting on his high school experiences, Schneidmiller said that he learned a lot under coaching from Bay to Bay and from former varsity boys’ volleyball coach Jason Cardoso, who left Saratoga High the same year Schneidmiller graduated.

“Bay to Bay taught me basically everything I know about the indoor game,” Schneidmiller said. “And Jason Cardoso helped to show me my true potential. I am very grateful and won’t forget what they’ve done to get me to where I am today.”

But while being on the Saratoga High team strengthened Schneidmiller’s skills, the team itself also learned from Schneidmiller’s strong play and leadership.  

“Having Joel on the team was honestly a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said senior Joshua Lee, who played with Schneidmiller during his freshman and sophomore years. “Whether Joel was back row or front row, he was always a threat to other teams, which led to more opportunities for other hitters on our team.”

Last summer, Schneidmiller had the opportunity to train with the national team when the team needed more outside hitters due to regular players’ injuries or their not returning from pro teams. Schneidmiller was able to practice with them for two weeks; he found it a great experience and hopes to play with the national team again in the future.

After college, he said, he hopes to go pro in Europe, but is currently focusing on college and winning the national championship.

Schneidmiller is grateful for all that volleyball has allowed him to do. He said that without it, he would likely be attending junior college. But with volleyball, he has the opportunity to make the most out of a school like Irvine.

“The program at Irvine is different and l really like the way it’s run here,” Schneidmiller said. “I also love my teammates, so being able to go through all this with them has been really rewarding.”

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