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Anteaters may contend for NCAA title

UCI, picked with USC to win MPSF, has shot at claiming national crown in third straight odd year.

January 03, 2011|Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
  • Carson Clark, left, is a a returning first-team All-American who led the nation in aces and was No. 3 in kills per set in 2010.
Carson Clark, left, is a a returning first-team All-American… (KENT TREPTOW, Daily…)

The UC Irvine men's volleyball program has developed a rather odd tradition lately. And Anteaters Coach John Speraw is hoping it will continue this season.

UCI captured NCAA championships in 2007 and 2009 and, according to at least one preseason poll, will be among the top candidates to capture the crown in 2011.

Speraw's squad, which was 15-15 and finished No. 8 in the final national poll last season, was picked tied for first in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation preseason poll with USC.

The Anteaters boast All-American returners Carson Clark and Jordan DuFault, while senior middle blocker Kevin Wynne earned All-American honors as a sophomore in 2009.

Inconsistent play at setter and libero contributed to last year's eighth-place MPSF finish, in a season that included a 1-9 record in five-game matches.

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Freshman Daniel Stork, a high school All-American out of Crespi High in Encino, could solidify the setting role that may also include senior Anthony Spittle.

Stork's father, Jeff, was a three-time Olympian and the starting setter for the U.S. national team that won a gold medal in Seoul in 1988. Jeff Stork is the women's coach at Cal State Northridge, where Matt Stork, Daniel's older brother, is a junior setter on the men's team.

"His strength and speed are very freshman-esque," Speraw said of Daniel Stork. "But his hands are better than a typical freshman and maybe some of his experience, because of growing up with his dad and seeing a lot of high-level volleyball."

Clark, a 6-foot-5 opposite, competed with the national team in the Federation Internationale de Volleyball World Championships in Rome, Italy in October. A high-flying left-hander, he led the nation with 50 service aces last season and his 5.04 kills per set ranked No. 3 nationally. He was a first-team All-American in 2010 and has earned first-team All-MPSF honors the last two seasons.

"Clearly, the [national team] experience has made him a better volleyball player," Speraw said of Clark. "We all know that he can become a great player. The expectations people will place upon him are something he is going to have to manage."

DuFault, a 6-4 outside hitter, was second-team All-American and All-MPSF last season, when he averaged 4.06 kills per set and led the team with 243 digs.

"Jordan had really quite a remarkable year last year," Speraw said. "Considering our setting wasn't consistent, the fact that he hit at the percentage he hit (.333) was quite remarkable."

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