Senior setter Brian Thornton wasn’t the most highly touted prospect while playing volleyball at San Clemente High School. To the contrary, he was hardly recruited at all.
‘I talked to a couple of different teams and they basically said the same thing. I’m short, I’m not a good jumper, so they were kind of afraid to take me or give me a scholarship,’ Thornton said. ‘They all said we would love to have you walk on, but that was about it.’
It wasn’t until Thornton was able to communicate with a former assistant coach at UCI that he decided to extend his volleyball career.
But even then Thornton was no shoo-in for playing time. As a freshman, Thornton was never really a starter and was forced to split time with another player.
‘His name was Brett Reid. He was also a freshman setter, but he ended up pursuing other options so I stepped in there and have been doing it ever since. It’s been an unbelievable ride every since and I have been really fortunate in my college career.’
It appears that Thornton had the last laugh after the Anteaters captured their first-ever NCAA National Championship in men’s volleyball.
What makes Thornton’s role on the team critical is the fact that he is the main facilitator for his teammates. As a setter, it’s his job to run around the court and loft the ball perfectly in the air so his fellow teammates can rise up for the kill and score points.
Though Thornton’s plays are not likely to make any highlight reels, his ability to set up his teammates with perfect passes are as important as a jump shooter receiving a pass in a perfect position to shoot from a teammate in basketball.
Yet, Thornton remains modest and gives nothing but praise to his fellow players who smash many of the team’s kills such as senior opposite Matt Webber and senior outside hitter Jayson Jablonsky.
‘[Webber and Jablonksy] make my job a ton easier,’ Thornton said after the NCAA semifinals against Penn State. ‘I am not afraid to throw the ball to either one of them at any time and I just know that they are going to put it away.’
Success hasn’t been easy for Thornton or the rest of the Anteaters. Even as Thornton helped lead UCI to a national championship and was also named to the All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Team for the second straight season, he recalls a bleaker time in the UCI volleyball program.
After going 9-20 in his second season in 2005, Thornton said his team made a commitment to become one of the best in the country.
‘I think it was that sophomore season that turned it around for us. We were relatively the same age and a young team. There were some games where we played incredible but we could never put together the entire thing. We realized that we had a lot of potential. We were just going to out work every team we played,’ Thornton said.
After helping UCI win the 2007 National Championship, it is safe to say that while his past critics might continue to use phrases such as ‘too short’ or ‘not a good jumper’ to describe Thornton, they will now also have to include one more word: ‘winner.’
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