Brian Thornton, David Smith, Matt Webber and Jayson Jablonsky: four names that should be synonymous with the words ‘success’, ‘teamwork’ and ‘UC Irvine men’s volleyball.’
These four players have been through it all, from the rough losing seasons to the historic turnaround. And it is not far from the truth that much of the team’s success can be attributed to them.
Last year, Jablonsky was named Player of the Year, and both Webber and Thornton were named second- team All-Americans. However, these players did not always have it good. They had to work hard for their success.
When asked about going from 9-20 season in 2005 to a 20-plus game-winning team in 2006, senior Jablonky said, ‘We just established a set of goals and then we took it one game at a time. After the 21 game win streak we were like ‘Woah, can’t believe that happened!”
These players have changed Irvine from a mediocre team to a contender. A team that Webber says ‘has gained respect in Division I and has made opponents come out and play their best against us every time.’
Smith offers a little more in-depth look on the change in the program in his four years at UCI.
‘When I came in Coach Speraw was in his second season, a great coach already but still forming his foundations and his systems and teaching those to us,’ Smith said. ‘Last year was obviously a huge jump for us and now we can call the Bren home for most of our matches, we have a much larger fan support and it’s really something that I take pride in being a part of. We come everyday to work hard and work toward a national championship. I think before it used to be something we said because that is what we were supposed to be playing for, but now it is really [what] we show and lay out on the court everyday.’
Just by looking at their statistics this year, one can see how integral they each are to this team.
Webber leads the team with 397 kills and 31 service aces, while Jablonsky is not far behind with 383 kills and 39 service aces.
Jablonsky holds the all time UCI service ace record as well. He also leads the team with 177 digs.
Thornton is the mastermind who sets up players like Jablonsky and Webber for punishing kills; he has a freakish 1,322 assists on the year. Smith anchors the middle blocking position and appropriately leads the team with 146 blocks. In addition to his blocking expertise, he is a solid contributor in the attacking field with over a 55 percent kill percentage.
The statistics are one thing but the chemistry can only be witnessed in person as the memories these players hold