The 2003 season for the UCI Men’s Volleyball team probably still has everyone’s head spinning. It seems like being ranked first nationally, having a first-team All-American, opening with a 10-game winning streak and finishing with the best season in school history was enough to sell out Crawford Hall four times and have the whole campus buzzing about a team recognized across the country.
Yet with all the success that the team enjoyed last season, at least four people are willing to put that all behind them and start anew. With tough-as-nails Head Coach John Speraw leading the way, seniors Jimmy Pelzel, Kyle Weichert and Spencer Bemus have adopted a type of focus that looks forward instead of backward.
‘Expectations can be a good thing, because you have high hopes for what you can achieve. But this season, my expectations are simply that today, when we step into that gym, we will all learn to do better and grow as a team,’ Speraw said. ‘Expectations built from last year can also hurt us if we worry too much about it, so we need to focus on improving our game today more than anything.’
It’s no question that last season is easier to forget when these three seniors, who were essentially the core of the team, have returned.
Pelzel, the 6-6 opposite hitter, became the most decorated player in UCI Men’s Volleyball history last season. The first ever Anteater named first-team All-American, Pelzel shattered the school record for kills with 593 and ranked second in points with 6.37 nationally.
Pelzel’s kills often struck fear in the hearts of opponents and at times shifted the momentum within games. Though Pelzel is set to finish off his legacy here at UCI this season, he hasn’t let his prior success get to his head.
‘My success last year came along with team play. I’m thankful to have [a] real good supporting cast last year and I attribute the majority of my success to them,’ Pelzel said. ‘I definitely will be looking to repeat some of the things I achieved last year, but nothing specific.’
What’s even more impressive is that the star hitter has also fully bought into Speraw’s philosophy of focusing on the task at hand.
‘Our goal is just to improve every day and keep getting better, one play at a time. Though I’ve seen some technical flaws that have been hindering us, I also see lots of potential and I’m excited about the team’s future,’ Pelzel said.
There to help him enforce that mentality is Weichert, a 6-7 middle blocker. Weichert, fittingly nicknamed ‘The Big Dog,’ led the team in blocks last season with 1.17 blocks per game while managing 2.37 kills per game on the side. Weichert was a Big West Conference Scholar-Athlete last year, proving that his hard work on the courts extended into the classroom. Like Pelzel, he has high hopes for this team and will be looking to finish off his senior season with an exclamation mark.
‘It’s coming down to the wire for me, and I’m going to be attacking every game as if it’s my last. I’m just going to try and win every game and compete as hard as I can every time I step on the court to be sure I leave nothing behind at the end of the season,’ Weichert said.
Another senior, the 6-5 outside hitter Bemus, broke out last season and was second on the team with 2.66 kills per game. Bemus also played a spectacular all-around game, leading the squad in service aces with 46 and providing 1.05 digs and 0.64 blocks along the way. Bemus, the consummate team player, is looking forward to stepping into more of a leadership role this season.
‘I want to improve the entire team aspect this season and make the people around me play better,’ Bemus said. ‘I will be looking to improve every part of my game as well as adopting more of a leadership role and helping the younger guys out both on and off the court.’
Outside of the seniors, the Anteaters have also managed to recruit many promising freshmen, some of whom have already begun to log major minutes. With Pelzel, Weichert and Bemus poised to step into their mandated leadership roles and Speraw on the bench, it’s safe to say that the fate of UCI men’s volleyball is in good hands.
The USA Today/AVCA poll, for one, seems to agree, as they have ranked UCI 10th in the nation in their most recent publication. But is there any chance that the Anteaters will let the ranking get to their heads and sink them to the state of complacency that plagues so many great teams? Not if the Three Kings can help it.