The first Scott Stadick moment came as he delivered a resounding block. One that had fifth-ranked UC Irvine leading No. 2 BYU 12-11 in the opening set of their contest last Friday night at the Bren Events Center in Irvine.
Having lost soundly to BYU two nights earlier, UCI was in no mood for a similar result. After sending down the stuff, Stadick turned and began flexing his arms at his sides. The Anteaters went on to fall in four games 28-30, 27-25, 25-17, 27-25 to the Cougars once more but not before Stadick finished with a season-high 12 kills and six total blocks, a number he’s reached in every outing so far. Later in the first set, Stadick read the set, stepping to his left in rhythm and roofing another BYU attack. That gave UCI set point at 29-28. That led to a fist-pumping celebration along the sideline as UCI fans cheered on with approval.
“He’s our fireball,” 6-6 junior outside Joel Schneidmiller said. “When he gets a block it brings everyone together, even more so than a kill. He screams and then he gives those hard high-fives, the ones I try to avoid. It fires us up and puts us on a new level. It’s not just a point for us. It’s more than that.”
Stadick, a 7-foot middle blocker from Watertown, Wisconsin, was tabbed VolleyballMag.com’s No. 1 recruit coming out of high school. Even with Loyola-Chicago and Ohio State in the midst of the Midwest championship run, heading West was “always the goal” since he was 15, Stadick said. UCI earned back-to-back titles in 2012-13, so the Anteaters were clearly one of the programs on his radar.
“Yeah, I was looking around,” he said. “Through the recruiting process though I loved (UCI coach David) Kniffin and what he’s doing here and the people he brings in. I loved the mentality of this place as much as anything else.”
Fast forward to 2020, where Stadick and outside JB Kam are the only seniors on the roster. It’s not necessarily something Stadick thinks about much, it’s just how it happened to work out.
“I love all the guys on the team,” he said. “This is the right roster for this year.”
Stadick is reluctant to talk about carrying any proverbial torch as the elder statesman. Instead he shares how impressed he is by the leadership everyone on the roster brings regardless of class. He points out Patrick VorenKamp, a 6-6 redshirt-freshman setter and one of the captains, as an example. Behind the scenes though Stadick has helped build a sense of accountability that only family can.
Stadick’s older sister, Debbie, is married to Kniffin.
Stadick already committed to UCI by the time he was attending the pair’s wedding. For Kniffin, having Stadick on board brings a reflection about his coaching and how he’s relating to each player.
“One thing I want to believe I do here is pour into these kids and love them the best I can,” Kniffin said. “Obviously, that looks different for each player. Every relationship is unique. Having a family member on the team forces an accountability of am I really loving each one like family and really treating them like I would want a family member of mine to be treated? It’s a great starting spot for us.”
Of course, Stadick would love nothing more than to go out with a national championship and return the Anteaters to the top of the pack. The last time that happened was in 2013, Kniffin’s first season as coach. It would be a fairytale ending and certainly one against the odds at the moment given the couple of recent setbacks against BYU and the Big West favorite and top-ranked Hawai’i holding court and looming ahead.
At the very least, Stadick said he wants to look back at his time at UCI knowing he helped leave the program closer to that goal than we he arrived.
“That’s something that sounds really cool to say but coming from Scott I know that’s coming from the core,” Kniffin said. “We are interested in pursuing national championships. We have an interest in winning and doing what we can to put ourselves in a position to win. That’s the nature of the game. But if that’s the only objective, if that’s all we are doing, then we are only getting wins and losses. When Scott says leaving the program in a better place than he found it, he’s really talking about those relational components.”
Kniffin had lots more to say about Stadick and how he represents the program and university in a positive light. In a sport with plenty of tall bodies Stadick stands out on the court no doubt. But imagine a 7-footer walking around campus? That’s someone who’s going to catch everyone’s eyes.
“On campus he stands out even more so,” Kniffin said. “He’s a champion and an ambassador. He’s been on the dean’s list every quarter since he’s been here. You talk to any professor he’s had and they’ll tell you he’s a great young man. These are unquantifiable experiences and correlations with a guy like Scott. He’s a defining brand for a program and Scott defines us.”
Kniffin and staff are asking more of Stadick than before. They’ve worked on a jump float — he did have one ace with one serve error Friday night. They’ve also asked him to become more offensive and take a greater sense of ownership of the court.
With Stadick in the middle, it offers UCI a different dynamic, especially on offense the more the Anteaters are able to get him involved. That’s what happened Friday night as opposed to the first match against BYU, when Stadick ended with just 13 attempts. That number nearly doubled to 24 on Friday, with Stadick hitting .375. He led the team with 16 points. It was a similar performance to the one put forth in a four-set victory over Loyola-Chicago on January 10. Stadick posted 11 kills, hit .476, had 10 total blocks and led the team with 17 points.
“Volleyball is weird because so much is dependent on everything else,” Stadick said. “Our passing was really good against a strong serving BYU team. That allowed us to feed the middle more. Patrick was flowing. It just kind of happened naturally.”
UCI has four more matches — USC, Queens and two with Concordia — before taking on Hawai’i at Hawai’i. It’s the first of two trips to the island, as UCI ends Big West play with back-to-back contests at Hawai’i on April 17-18.
To contend in the Big West and beyond UCI needs numbers like Stadick put up against Loyola-Chicago and the second go against BYU. In the meantime, Stadick is going to continue doing what he can in ways his teammates certainly notice.
“Coming in Scott was the guy I knew the most,” Schneidmiller said. “I was asking him what other guy’s names were. He helped me out a ton learning how to be a better teammate. He couldn’t be a nicer guy on or off the court. He never has anything negative to say. I can’t say enough about him as a person. I learn so much from just hitting against him every day in practice. Hitting against a 7-footer, you can’t hit certain shots so he’s teaching me how to be a better hitter.
“He has this unspoken leadership. He earns everyone’s respect automatically. He doesn’t try to. He’s just a great guy and a good volleyball player and we all respect him. What he says goes, even though he’s not the type to tell you what to do. He leads through his actions.”