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UCI cruising with captain at helm

April 18, 2006|By Barry Faulkner

Paul Spittle does not have the talent to put his team on his shoulders and carry it to victory. The strength, perhaps, but not the talent.

The UC Irvine men's volleyball team has not won by virtue of the outside hitter's dominance at the net. Nor did it ascend to the No. 1 national ranking on the heels of his proficiency with passing, serving or blocking.

Yet, in the midst of a 21-match winning streak, the latest of which Saturday clinched the program's first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season title and a berth in the conference tournament semifinals (April 27), most agree the Anteaters would not be sniffing such rarified air without the leg up provided by their 6-foot-1, 175-pound captain from Redondo Beach.

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Spittle, who has started all season, does not rank in the top three in any statistical category. But UCI Coach John Speraw said he is unrivaled in at least one department.

"His biggest attribute is his natural leadership ability," Speraw said. "He's probably the best team leader I've ever been around or ever seen. And I've been around some great team leaders at UCLA [where he played and was an assistant for four years before taking over at UCI prior to Spittle's freshman season]. Paul is just a tremendous, tremendous leader."

Speraw said Spittle's intensity, competitiveness and outgoing personality are all components of his ability to inspire. But it's Spittle's work ethic, Speraw believes, that thrusts the undersized overachiever to the forefront in terms of his teammates' esteem.

"If you talk to anyone about the fundamental traits of a leader the first is, you have to lead by example," Speraw said. "There's no question Paul is the hardest worker on the team. Whether it's in the weight room or on the court. When you work as hard as he does, it certainly brings credibility to your role as a team leader."

Spittle was recruited by former men's coach Charlie Brande as a libero out of St. John Bosco High.

"I couldn't stand libero," Spittle said. "I was recruited as a libero, because I don't think any school would have thought of me as an outside hitter. But I thought I could help the team more playing outside, even if I was on the second team."

That's exactly where he was his first two seasons, before averaging 1.4 kills per game as a junior. This season, he is averaging 2.03 kills per game with a .266 hitting percentage, well beyond what Speraw had hoped.

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