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Men's Volleyball: UCI's Austin blazing trail

Anteaters' catalyst is only African-American setter to trigger an NCAA champion.

April 19, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

Chris Austin has already made volleyball history. But that he will likely be considered less icon than iconoclast bothers him little.

The first African-American setter to guide an NCAA men's title winner last year, Austin is in position to duplicate his journey from virtual volleyball oblivion to the biggest stage the collegiate game has to offer.

But while he appreciates the novelty of his unlikely ascension, he is hardly conflicted about accepting credit. If one is curious about his talent, one need merely ask the 6-foot-3 UC Irvine senior.

"I'm not a person who lacks confidence," said Austin, who by sheer force of will has emerged as the catalyst for an Anteaters squad attempting to become the first repeat NCAA champion since UCLA went back-to-back in 1995-96. "I have a high volleyball IQ, so even back when I wasn't ahead of the curve in terms of setting, I was mentally, so I could always make things happen."

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Austin has indeed made things happen, ever since ditching basketball for a sport he had never seen before his freshman year at Coronado High in Henderson, Nev.

Lured, or more accurately bribed to attend his first to his first volleyball practice in 2006, by a friend's offer to buy him lunch, Austin initially displayed little taste for the basics of the sport. But it wasn't long before he was devouring online volleyball videos in order to separate himself from his landlocked peers.

"I fell in love with volleyball," Austin said of the game he once considered "a girls' sport. I'm addicted still."

Austin evolved from a go-to junior outside hitter to a senior who split his time between setting and hitting in a 6-2 offensive scheme. A prep All-American and two-time state finalist, Austin was convinced he was merely an opportunity away from the highest level of collegiate competition. So, he ventured to the University of Hawaii to pursue that dream.

"But I wound up getting cut from the team," said Austin, who quickly called in a favor from a coach at Long Beach City College, where he was a first-team all-conference setter for two seasons and twice led the Vikings to the state semifinals.

Hawaii came calling once again, but lost out to then-UCI Coach John Speraw, whose top assistant, David Kniffin, took over the reigns when Speraw left for UCLA prior to this season.

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