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Tillie in own orbit

Men's Volleyball

High-flying outside hitter from France has helped UCI close in on its third NCAA title since 2007.

May 01, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

Tillie, who said he needed a change after two collegiate seasons in Canada, found UCI almost by accident, when a player who knew his father, Laurent, suggested Speraw's program as a possible destination.

"It was just kind of luck, I guess," Tillie said of connecting with UCI, of which he knew nothing until he was convinced to visit.

"They put me in a Newport Beach house and I woke up in front of the ocean," Tillie, whose home town of Cagnes-sur-Mer is nestled between Cannes and Nice, said. "I Skyped my dad and he said 'commit, commit.'"

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Tillie's father is a former French national team captain who coaches professional teams in Cannes, and wants to one day coach the French national team.

Tillie's mother, Caroline, played on the Dutch national team and Tillie's older brother, Kim, was a 6-11 forward who played basketball at the University of Utah from 2006 to 2010.

"I originally wanted to go to Utah, but transferring my grades from France to here was really complicated," said Tillie, who has played on the French junior national team and is, many believe, on a fast track toward the French men's national team. "So, I went to Canada for a couple years."

Transferring Tillie's talents — including rare all-around proficiency, a vertical leap that has prompted yet another nickname: Air France, and a visceral competitiveness that is as infectious as it is insatiable — into the Anteaters' lineup was hardly immediate.

A right-ankle sprain sustained in preseason training slowed Tillie's emergence as a starter. But, when he joined the lineup, his play allowed him to converse effortlessly with his teammates in the universal language of winning.

"That injury affected him for a while and that was a little disappointing," Speraw said. "And it's hard being a first-year player in [the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation], I don't care how talented you are. But when he's comfortable and playing Kevin Tillie volleyball, he can carry a heavy load for us."

In the MPSF semifinals and finals, both come-from-behind five-set victories against top-ranked USC and Stanford, respectively, Tillie led the Anteaters in kills (47 total) and digs (24, matching setter Chris Austin). He hit .372 against USC and .422 against Stanford. And this, despite aggravating that ankle sprain in Game 2 of the semifinals.

Tillie's per-set averages of 3.73 kills and 4.33 points lead the team, and he ranks third nationally with a .394 hitting percentage to help the 'Eaters hit an NCAA-best .356.

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