The UC Irvine men’s volleyball team was ranked the top team in the country by the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Coaches Poll one year after completing the most successful season in the school’s history.
Irvine finished just ahead of No. 2-ranked Brigham Young University in the final rankings while last season’s NCAA champions, the UCLA Bruins, were ranked third. This is the second time the Anteaters have been ranked the top team in the country. They were also ranked number one by the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Poll in early November.
With four All-Americans returning, including 2006 Player of the Year Jayson Jablonsky, the Anteaters will look to replicate last season’s success, which took them into semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
‘There are some expectations that we are going to have to deal with since we are preseason number one,’ said Head Coach John Speraw. ‘Getting to the Final Four was a big step for us, and I think we accomplished a lot in setting the stage for future successful seasons.’
The Anteaters will have their hopes set on the NCAA tournament once again this season when the tournament begins in May at Ohio State University.
‘With Hawaii, Brigham Young University, UCLA, Pepperdine, California State University, Northridge and UC Santa Barbara all in our conference and all ranked in the top seven in the nation and only two of us getting trips to Ohio, we will have to battle it out for the next four months before we can say we have earned the rights to go back to Ohio,’ said senior middle blocker David Smith.
‘This is a new season,’ said senior setter Brian Thornton. ‘Last year is over and the success we had last season does not win games this year.’
In the first week of the season, the Anteaters have lived up to their ranking.
The squad started the season compiling an impressive 4-0 record en route to capturing the UCSB/Elephant Bar Tournament Championship with notable wins against both Stanford and third-ranked UCLA.
They will head back home and start Mountain Pacific Sports Federation league play with two games against No. 4-ranked Hawaii on Jan. 12 and 13 at the Bren Events Center.
Playing in one of the most competitive leagues in the country, the Anteaters will have to be in top form as they face some of volleyball’s elites.
One team in particular, the BYU Cougars, will be looking for revenge against the Anteaters after Irvine defeated the then No. 1-ranked Cougars at the Bren Center on back-to-back nights last season. The pair of victories helped the Anteaters become the number one team in the country a season ago.
This season, the Anteaters will have to travel out to BYU to play two games against the Cougars. The results could easily have postseason implications, and the winner of the match would have an inside track in grabbing the all-important top spot in the rankings.
‘Its all about how well you do in conference,’ Speraw said. ‘We have to go to BYU this year, and that team is exceptional at home. There are a lot of matches that are on our plate that are going to be big.’
The No. 1 ranking is a dramatic turnaround for the Anteaters, who were just finishing a disappointing 9-20 record a mere two seasons ago.
‘After that season, we made a promise to each other that we were going to train harder physically and mentally than our opponents,’ Thornton said. ‘We had a chip on our shoulder from the previous season, and it was apparent with our style of play. We need to be able to play like that this season, regardless of the rankings.’
The following season, the Anteaters won 15 consecutive games and finished the year with a 27-5 record.
‘Last year the key for us was to learn how to work hard and compete,’ Smith said. ‘Now that we know how to do that, I have no doubt we have what it takes to be technically better then we were last year.’
Filed Under: News