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Men's Volleyball: Breakthrough Brothers Mehring, Russell bolster UCI

All-American middle blocker Mehring and rising outside hitter Russell came from shadows to spotlight.

April 30, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(KEVIN CHANG / Daily…)

Even as they towered over most of their teammates and competitors, and flew high over the net, the 6-foot-7 Collin Mehring and 6-9 Kyle Russell operated well below the radar last season with the UC Irvine men's volleyball team.

Mehring, a junior middle blocker, redshirted in 2010, then played in only one match in each of his next two seasons. There were times last season when, unable to crack the 12-man lineup for intrasquad scrimmages, the product of St. Francis High near San Jose would work the scoreboard during practices with the 2012 NCAA champion Anteaters.

Russell, another Northern California recruit out of Del Oro High in Loomis, near Sacramento, redshirted last season and, due to injuries, had not played much until late in the regular season this year.

When it came to paying their dues, these two were certainly big spenders.

But as the No. 2-seeded Anteaters (23-7) make their fifth NCAA Final Four appearance in the last eight seasons in search of the program's fourth national title since 2007, Mehring is a second-team All-American and second-team All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honoree. Mehring led the MPSF with a .483 hitting percentage, his 1.20 blocks per set rank No. 6 nationally, and he has been one of the more consistent performers for first-year head coach David Kniffin.

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Russell, who began playing volleyball as a 5-10 high school freshman, overcame a strained left Achilles tendon and a broken right foot to work his way into the starting lineup and earn National Player of the Week honors in early April.

Together the Breakthrough Brothers figure to have four large hands in whether the Anteaters can get past semifinal opponent Loyola of Chicago (Thursday at 6 p.m. at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion). Should UCI advance to the title match, in which it has not lost in three previous tries, it would meet either No. 1 seeded BYU or No. 4-seeded Penn State on Saturday at 6 p.m, also at Pauley Pavilion.

"To be honest, I don't think anybody did," sophomore All-American libero Michael Brinkley said when asked if he saw the duo's emergence coming. "But one year has really made a huge difference for both of them. From last year to this year, Collin has become a completely different person. He was a little quiet last season, but this year, he is starting and hitting for great numbers."

Even Russell and Mehring were not convinced before this season that the other would become a key contributor.

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