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UCI bench delivering

Men's Volleyball

Anteaters Coach Speraw not afraid to shake up the lineup, and he usually makes the right call.

May 02, 2012|By Barry Faulkner

A volleyball team's bench is like winter firewood: all stacked up with the constant promise of delivering a spark.

When it comes to wielding the match, few have been more successful at fashioning a blaze with backups than UC Irvine Coach John Speraw.

At several points this season, including back-to-back five-set victories in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament last week that propelled the Anteaters (24-5) to the four-team NCAA Championship that begins Thursday at USC's Galen Center, Speraw has summoned a substitute who has proved to be catalytic.

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In the MPSF semifinals against top-ranked USC on April 26, it was senior outside hitter Kevin Carroll who was the opportunistic understudy. Carroll, who had played roughly 20% of his team's sets to that point, produced 12 kills with a .476 hitting percentage, while adding one ace serve, seven digs and two block assists to help the No. 2-ranked 'Eaters overcome an 0-2 deficit in games.

Two nights later in the title match with Stanford, it was senior middle blocker Austin D'Amore, who had seized well less than half of his available playing time to that point, who came to the rescue. D'Amore, who watched the first two sets, both losses, chipped in four kills on seven swings (a .571 hitting percentage). He added two solo blocks and two block assists to help turn the tide against the Cardinal.

Junior outside hitter Connor Hughes's insertion into the starting lineup over first-team All-MPSF sophomore Jeremy Dejno spurred the current four-match win streak. And junior setter Chris Austin, propelled into the lineup when former starter Daniel Stork went down with a midseason concussion, are additional former reserves who have made the most of their opportunities.

At other times, freshman opposite Zack La Cavera spelled All-American Carson Clark with little discernible drop-off, and junior liberos Will Montgomery and Will Thomas have taken their turns adding a lift off the bench, both with their play and their emotional energy.

"A really unique part of our team this year is that we're so deep," said Austin, who was himself subbed out briefly for Stork against Stanford. "Literally in every position, we have a [backup] who has started at one point [at UCI], whether it's outside hitter, opposite, setter, middle blocker or libero. So, no one becomes complacent.

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