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2006:Speraw the coach/scientist

SPORTS NEWSMAKER OF

VOLLEYBALL: Coach's passion for excellence helps 'Eaters become NCAA title contenders.

December 31, 2006|By Barry Faulkner

With decreasing frequency, John Speraw steals the last 30 minutes of daylight to buzz to the beach and capture photographic images of the sunset.

But it is sunrise that is ultimately more inspirational for the UC Irvine men's volleyball coach, who relishes the daily possibility of at least 16 waking hours with which to methodically labor closer toward the pinnacle of his profession.

Speraw, who earned a bachelor's degree in microbiology and molecular genetics at UCLA, where he played middle blocker for two NCAA champions and added three more national title rings as an assistant under legendary coach Al Scates, might one day be the first coach to ever don a lab coat on the sideline.

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One of his players called him a scientist who coaches volleyball and first-year assistant David Kniffin, who was a senior setter for the Anteaters during Speraw's first season at UCI, said Speraw's detailed game plans are both uniquely meticulous and singularly efficient.

In his debut season of 2003, Speraw guided the Anteaters to a then-school-record 20 wins and, for a brief time, the program's first No. 1 national ranking.

After consecutive 14-18 and 9-20 seasons, UCI was 27-5 last season, when it won 21 straight matches, was No. 1 in the nation for eight consecutive weeks, captured the school's first Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular-season championship and made an unprecedented trip to the four-team NCAA Championships, where it lost a five-game semifinal to host Penn State. The Anteaters were ranked No. 2 in the final poll.

Speraw was named Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches' Assn. and four Anteaters received All-American honors, including National Player of the Year Jayson Jablonsky, a junior outside hitter, and national Newcomer of the Year Brent Asuka, a freshman libero.

But as monumental as last season was, it was, ultimately, a failure in the exacting eyes of Speraw, whose barren white office walls reveal both a lack of sentimentality (his five NCAA championship rings sit in a box in his garage and he does not know the whereabouts of last season's Final Four trophy) and an uncompromising focus on his relentless quest for excellence.

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