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Men's Volleyball: Brinkley dug in at the top

Sophomore All-American libero Brinkley pushes UCI to forefront from the back row.

April 30, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(SCOTT SMELTZER…)

It took Michael Brinkley all of 16 months to achieve the most lofty team and individual goals to which a college men's volleyball player can aspire.

Luckily for the UC Irvine sophomore libero, there is still this pesky perfection to pursue.

"I wanted to win a national championship and I wanted to be first-team All-American," said the mop-topped 5-foot-10 floor leader whose value to the 23-7 Anteaters goes well beyond his defensive dominance.

Brinkley crossed off the first of his gargantuan goals last season, when he helped UCI claim its third NCAA title in six seasons. The second goal became reality last week, when his 271 digs allowed him to join senior outside hitter Kevin Tillie as a first-team All-American.

This week, Brinkley hopes to add another NCAA crown when UCI makes its fifth appearance in eight years at the four-team NCAA Championship, beginning Thursday at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion.

The 'Eaters (23-7) face Loyola of Chicago (22-9) in one semifinal on Thursday at 6 p.m. If victorious, No. 2-seeded UCI would then face either top-seeded BYU (25-4) or Penn State (23-7) in the final on Saturday at 6 p.m.

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Brinkley admits to being thoroughly ahead of schedule in terms of accomplishment, but UCI Coach David Kniffin believes Brinkley's rare collection of talent rendered him destined for such greatness.

"You can watch the guy pass or dig a couple balls and know he is special," Kniffin said. "Then you talk to him and realize he is a fierce competitor."

Add that to a court vision that is virtually unmatched and it is no surprise that Brinkley has already garnered attention from the brain trust at USA Volleyball, Kniffin said.

"He does quite a bit for us," Kniffin said. "He has really become comfortable in his own skin and comfortable as a player this season, which has allowed us to really see the depth he brings to the court, which is cool for me. He has gone from being a digging libero to a court manager and that has been very special for me to see."

It is, however, what Brinkley sees in the split-second fragments that foretell a kill or a dig, that increases his success rate against prodigious blasts that commonly doom the most well-planned retrieval efforts to failure.

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