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Colleges: UCI, Kniffin seek own identity, title

May 01, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • David Kniffin, (5), who played and coached under John Speraw, left, at UC Irvine, will try to win his first NCAA title as Anteaters' coach this week.
David Kniffin, (5), who played and coached under John… (FILE PHOTO )

The UC Irvine men's volleyball team needs two more victories to become the first NCAA champion to repeat since UCLA won back-to-back titles in 1995 and 1996.

The No. 2-seeded Anteaters (23-7) face No. 3-seeded Loyola of Chicago (22-9) in one semifinal on Thursday at 6 p.m. at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion. The winner will advance to face either top-seeded BYU (25-4) or Penn State (23-7), in the title match Saturday at 6 p.m.

Former UCI Coach John Speraw was a senior middle blocker on the 1995 national championship team. And while he left UCI last season after guiding the program to its third NCAA crown in three seasons, his legacy with this year's Anteaters is a point of contention for some.

"At the beginning of the season, [the players] were about showing that this wasn't the University of John Speraw," UCI senior setter Chris Austin said. "We wanted to show that this team can play Irvine volleyball and be successful without him as a coach. Although Speraw is a genius as a coach, [first-year head man David] Kniffin has run this team really well. We have taken a different approach in terms of how we are going to win matches and it has been successful for us."

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One primary difference between Kniffin and Speraw is that Kniffin is less willing to work the players with marathon practices and exhaustive video study.

"Speraw was a lot more intense," UCI junior second-team All-American middle blocker Collin Mehring said. "He would drive the guys very hard and we would have long practices. Last year, we'd practice for three hours, but this year, we usually go two hours, then stretch or watch video. Last year, one of the ways we won was that we worked harder than anyone else. Kniff is more about taking care of your body. I think we train just as hard, but not as long."

Kniffin, who played for and was an assistant coach for five seasons under Speraw before leaving after the 2011 season to become a women's assistant at Illinois, has long credited Speraw, now the coach at UCLA and the U.S. men's national team, as a mentor.

But he too is sensitive to forging a new era of success, with new thinking at the top and even some different schemes on the court.

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