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Colleges: UCI shines on huge stage

May 07, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine celebrates after defeating USC, 3-0, in a NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship title match at the Galen Center on Saturday.
UC Irvine celebrates after defeating USC, 3-0, in a NCAA… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

In its fourth NCAA Final Four in the last seven seasons and its third final in the last six years, UC Irvine encountered something it had not before in Saturday's championship match at USC's Galen Center.

The top deck, normally reserved for a few late arrivals at other venues, was nearly filled to capacity as the 9,612 in attendance marked the third-largest crown ever for an NCAA men's volleyball final.

No. 2-ranked and No. 1-seeded UCI completed a 25-22, 34-32, 26-24 victory over the No. 1-ranked and No. 2-seeded Trojans that was anything but sweeping.

Only the 1998 title match at Hawaii between UCLA and Pepperdine (9,822) and the 1984 final in which host UCLA defeated Pepperdine (9,809) surpassed Saturday in numbers. But it would be difficult to imagine those crowds matching the volume and energy created by passionate fans from both schools Saturday.

"At the World Championships in Italy, I played in front of 9,000 people and it was the most intense place I'd ever played, until we got here," said UCI senior opposite Carson Clark, whose match-high 22 kills and three aces led to his selection as Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. "It was just, the crowd was amazing. And I can honestly say that over half were UCI fans. I can't say enough about our [students] because we don't win without them there. USC had such a big group of fans and the heckles were just going left and right. But we had our fans there to nullify that, which was huge for us."

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UCI Coach John Speraw, who in 10 seasons has guided the Anteaters (26-5) to NCAA titles in 2012, 2009 and 2007, and a Final Four appearance in 2006, also saw the significance of the huge crowd.

"I think it was a good night for volleyball," Speraw said. "And, I think this is a wonderful night for our institution. We're a young school that has never had an opportunity to have this many fans in one building at one time to see an event like this. To have all these fans there to connect university and their alma mater, and to have us come out on top, is just a tremendous night for UC Irvine."

USC Coach Bill Ferguson was similarly pleased by the atmosphere created by the first men's volleyball NCAA Championship hosted by USC.

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