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Colleges: Support for Kniffin runs deep

July 16, 2012|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine men's volleyball coach David Kniffin, left as an assistent in 2009, dispalys the kind of emotional bond he developed with Ryan Ammerman, an All-American setter.
UC Irvine men's volleyball coach David Kniffin,… (Douglas C. Pizac,…)

Just more than two months after UC Irvine won its third NCAA men's volleyball championship, there was significant rejoicing last week over the hiring of David Kniffin to replace John Speraw as coach.

Kniffin, who played and coached previously at UCI, is revered by current and former Anteaters players who universally praise his ability to connect with each individual in the program, offering both support and motivation to enhance performance on the court and personal growth off it.

Though he spent last year at Illinois, where he was an assistant for the women's team that advanced to its first NCAA final, Kniffin's footprint was all over the Anteaters' 2012 national championship campaign.

It is that presence that Kniffin will bring to the table for his alma mater, which will now face the challenge of chasing a Speraw-led UCLA program poised to return to the stature that brought 19 NCAA titles under Speraw's predecessor and mentor, Al Scates.

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Kniffin will be aided by assistant Mark Presho, who will return for his 10th season as an assistant at the school to provide his own brand of interpersonal gold. Presho's ability to connect with players was also an integral part of the program's success during 10 seasons under Speraw.

So fervent was the support for Kniffin, former players, supporters and alumni created a Facebook page and a website (hirekniffin.com) to voice their advocacy of Kniffin's candidacy in the days before he was hired. Former players Carson Clark, Jordan DuFault, Paul Spittle, Kevin Wynne and Taylor Wilson, among others, shared their online thoughts about what Kniffin meant to both them and the program.

The Facebook page, through Monday afternoon, had 171 likes and countless supportive comments, many from the aforementioned cast of former stars.

In addition, UCI enlisted current players Jeremy Dejno, Chris Austin and Ian Castellana as members of the committee charged with interviewing perspective candidates. The players, from the moment Speraw announced his departure, voiced their vigorous hopes that the school would hire someone familiar with the unique culture in the program.

With Kniffin, Presho and a cast of returners led by All-American Kevin Tillie, All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honoree Dejno, as well as starters Austin, Connor Hughes, Scott Kevorken and libero Michael Brinkley, UCI could be ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll.

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