Colleges: UCI seizes NCAA berth

April 30, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine and Coach John Speraw are vying for their third NCAA title in six seasons.
UC Irvine and Coach John Speraw are vying for their third… (MARK DUSTIN, Daily…)

Players, coaches and supporters of the UC Irvine men's volleyball team spent Sunday relaxing and anticipating.

Agonizing and regretting were the likely alternatives, had the Anteaters not rallied to win a pair of five-game matches on Thursday and Saturday to claim the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament title at USC's Galen Center.

Asked after Saturday's title-match triumph over Stanford about the do-or-die element of the MPSF Tournament, from which the winner gets a guaranteed berth into the four-team NCAA Championship ( Thursday and Saturday at the Galen Center), UCI senior All-American Carson Clark recalled a less-satisfying result.

"I know in 2009, it sucked, because it was out of our hands," Clark said of having to get the lone at-large berth into the Final Four after losing in the MPSF Tournament. "Our biggest thing was, we didn't want to sit there on Sunday and wait to hear our names. I'm happy that we're there."


UCI's season ended in 2011 when it lost to USC in the MPSF semifinals at the Galen Center. USC received the ensuing at-large berth into the NCAA Championships after it lost to UC Santa Barbara in the MPSF final.

To get to its fourth NCAA Championship, the No. 2-ranked and No. 4-seeded Anteaters (24-5) had to rally from two-game deficits, first against top-ranked and top-seeded USC on Thursday, then against Stanford on Saturday.

Senior outside hitter Kevin Carroll came off the bench to pound 12 kills and provide a major spark against USC, while senior middle blocker Austin D'Amore (four kills, a .571 hitting percentage, two solo blocks and two block assists) was the super sub de jour against the Cardinal.

And while depth has been a major factor for Coach John Speraw's 'Eaters — junior setter Chris Austin and sophomore outside hitter Connor Hughes both won starting jobs during the regular season, with Hughes replacing first-team All-MPSF performer Jeremy Dejno in the last four matches — it was junior All-American Kevin Tillie that was the leading force for UCI in its two valiant comebacks,

Tillie, a native off France who played his first two collegiate seasons in Canada, had 23 kills and hit .372, while adding 11 digs, four block assists and two aces against USC, despite aggravating a sprained right ankle that sidelined him early in the season in Game 2.

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