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'Eaters win again

VOLLEYBALL: UC Irvine, led by 18 kills from Matt Webber and Taylor Wilson, improve to 9-0 with victory over USC.

January 25, 2007|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza

IRVINE — On a night UC Irvine deemed bald as beautiful in honor of men's volleyball coach John Speraw, the fifth-year man made just as bold a move Wednesday.

Instead of going with last year's national newcomer of the year in Brent Asuka at libero, Speraw started Nick Spittle for the first time. And he stuck with him against USC, and Spittle didn't disappoint.

The sophomore helped the top-ranked Anteaters remain undefeated as they won, 30-16, 28-30, 30-26, 30-20, in a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation match at Bren Events Center.

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"Asuka struggled a little against [UC] Santa Barbara and Nick came in and did a great job," said Speraw of the MPSF match UCI won, 3-2, Saturday, the only match this year that has gone five games for the Anteaters.

"I just kind of watched them in practice the last couple of days, and Nick was still doing a better job."

Throughout the night UCI fans wore bald-headed caps, Asuka, a sophomore, stood near the bald coach and watched the Anteaters not miss much of a beat with Spittle.

In the first game, UCI showcased why it's 9-0, 5-0 in the MPSF. Depth is something Speraw has, as four players finished with at least two kills.

The No. 14 Trojans (2-5, 1-3) couldn't handle hammering shots coming from outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky, middle blocker David Smith (10 kills), opposite Matt Webber (18 kills), and definitely not of outside hitter Taylor Wilson.

Spittle contributed as the defensive specialist, recording a career-best eight digs, one more than what he had against UCSB. Consistency is what Spittle brought throughout, setting up opportunities for Wilson and others to score after setter Brian Thornton distributed the ball.

"He did a great job, solid passing," said Wilson, who for the second straight match finished with 18 kills, a career-best. "[Spittle and Asuka] do a good job competing back and forth. Right now Nick is doing a real good job for us."

Speraw said Spittle is the starter, but that could change.

Helping Spittle fit right in the back was last year's American Volleyball Coaches Assn. National Player of the Year, Jablonsky. The senior's 11 digs matched a career-high.

Jablonsky, the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week, added 16 kills. Many of those came after Thornton set him up, as Thornton finished with 55 assists.

But it was Thornton needing assistance in the second game after USC outside hitter Juan Figueroa nailed him around the groin with a kill. Thornton collapsed to the ground as the Puerto Rican junior celebrated with teammates. He could've used Spittle's help.

"That was some pain right there for sure," Thornton said. "I'm not sure what's going to happen [with our libero position]. I know if Asuka comes back in and if he's not performing, then we throw Nick right in there and he does a good job, and vice versa."

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