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Anteaters are loaded

Men's Volleyball

UC Irvine, with Speraw's most athletic and deepest team in 10 seasons, aims to reclaim national crown.

January 05, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

The novelty of having a national championship contender has long worn off for the UC Irvine men's volleyball program. So, the fact that this year's veteran-laden team was picked to finish second in the sport's elite conference, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, prompts neither excitement, nor concern from 10th-year coach John Speraw.

"I think we'll win more matches than we lose and I think we'll be in the mix in the end," said Speraw, who guided UCI to NCAA championships in 2007 and 2009. "Are the expectations good? Yeah. Fine. I don't really think about it that much."

When Speraw thinks of this year's squad, which opened with a 25-20, 25-18, 25-21 win over visiting Cal Baptist on Wednesday, two words come to mind.

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"Athleticism and depth," said Speraw, who believes the 2012 squad is the most athletic and the deepest he has coached at Irvine.

"As a coach, you want to coach athletes," Speraw, an assistant coach for the gold-medal-winning U.S. men's team at the 2008 Olympics, said. "And we have more athletes on the floor than we've ever had, so that aspect of it is fun. Can we develop the skill and can we become a great team? That obviously still needs to be seen."

What UCI observers will see is a high-flying, hard-hitting assemblage of hitters, who will bang both at the net and at the service line.

Two-time All-American Carson Clark, a 6-foot-5 senior opposite who was third in the NCAA last season in kills per set (5.45), is the most experienced and most heralded weapon at the disposal of sophomore setter Daniel Stork.

Senior Kevin Carroll, who led the Anteaters with 11 kills in the opener, is joined at outside hitter by 6-8 sophomore Jeremy Dejno, while 6-5 junior Kevin Tillie, a transfer from Thomas Rivers University in Canada, has generated plenty of buzz as well.

Seniors Dan McDonnell (6-6) and Austin D'Amore, 6-6 and 6-5, respectively, top a corps of middle blockers that also includes 6-9 sophomore Scott Kevorken.

Stork, who started a handful of matches last season, takes over as the full-time trigger man.

Junior Will Thomas, a key element in the leadership quotient, will contribute at libero, where heralded freshman Michael Brinkley is also expected to make an impact.

Freshman opposite Zach La Cavera and sophomore outside hitter Connor Hughes are also expected to contribute for a team coming off a 19-12 season that ended with a loss to USC in the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament.

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