Four Programs to Look Out for in 2009

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Men’s Volleyball
The UC Irvine men’s volleyball team is coming off a rebuilding year where they finished seventh in league with a 16-15 record overall and 11-11 in league play. Even though they were young and slightly unpolished at certain positions, this year’s squad has the makings and potential for our school to see another national championship.
The depth on the roster is vast with some positions seeing three or four guys competing for playing time and a coveted starting spot. Not to mention five seniors that would more than likely be sure starters on most other division-one teams. One of whom is Jon Steller. An All-American one year ago, Steller was the kills leader last year and has big rally points potential. In the Anteater’s game against the University of Hawaii last season, Steller pounded in a 29 kill performance.
Still, on this stacked team, for every senior this year, a lower classmen is waiting in the wings. As good as our All-American Steller is, there is a tremendous amount of buzz around freshman Carson Clark who hits from the same side as Steller. He has already made his presence known in the lineup. In an exhibition against the University of Alberta on New Year’s Eve, Clark racked up 18 kills. As the new season progresses, we will only have to wait and see how much of an impact this impressive freshman will make.
With all of the scoring options on the front lines, it is easy to overlook the still solid defense of the ‘Eaters led by four-year starter, Brent Asuka. The libero already holds the UCI record for most career digs with 875. Asuka also has the record for first and second most digs in a regular season with 336 and 307. Watching Asuka dig some of these monstrous kills is something every student should experience at least once.
Check him out and the rest of the squad out at the Bren Events Center against Cal Sate Northridge for the first home game on Jan. 16.

Men’s Basketball
There were high hopes for the UC Irvine men’s basketball team at the beginning of the season. Since then, they have gone 3-10, including the worst loss in program history to Idaho. We are not even going to mention the point differential. Four of the original starting five are sitting on the bench. Darren Moore, our expected star player, is out for the season with a torn patella ligament in his knee. Zack Atkinson apparently hasn’t grasped the UCI defense and barely sees over 10 minutes a game. Patrick Rembert shares time with Michael Hunter and Chad DeCasas has not found his game yet.
The only remaining player from the original starting five is senior Kevin Bland, who has resurrected his career. He has provided UCI with his playmaking ability and hard-nosed play on both ends of the court.
Freshman Eric Wise has become the go-to inside presence, while fellow classmate Adam Folker has helped UCI tremendously in the rebounding department.
Senior Brett Lauer flashes his shooter’s touch off and on, as he did against Fullerton last Saturday. Let’s hope he feels “it” more often.
What to Expect: Anything, really, since the non-conference schedule means squat and your conference schedule only determines a team’s seeding in the Big West Tournament, all that matters is if you win the tournament.
Seven of the nine teams in the Big West currently have records below .500 and the two that sit atop the conference only have records of 8-4 (UC Riverside and the University of the Pacific). Anyone can take the crown.
Yes, that includes us.

Swimming and Diving
The swimming and diving program at UC Irvine has been absolutely solid for the last few years, and this season shows no signs of slowing down. With a second place finish at the Big West Conference Championship Meet last year behind Santa Barbara, the team has been training year-round to step it up this season and snatch that first place finish at the Conference Championships.
A big addition to the team this year is the return of Randall Tom. He red-shirted all of last season and has come back to the squad with a bit of a chip on his shoulder. He is out to prove that he is the best and most versatile swimmer in the conference. In the UCI/Ayres Hotels Sprint Invitational, the team’s first big meet of the new year at home, Tom won four different events. He walked away with winning times in the 100 back (50.09), the 50 breast, the 100 fly (48.10) and the 50 fly. In his last meet in 2007, Tom finished nineth in the 100 fly at the NCAA Championships with a time of 46.71. It is obvious he has a lot to prove coming back for his final season as an Anteater, but with his previous success, it is safe to say he will not disappoint.
Other standouts on this year’s squad is senior Nate Rogers who won an event at Saturday’s Irvine/Ayres Spring Invitational. Rogers transferred from UC Berkeley after the 2006 season and has been a standout ever since he arrived at Irvine. Rogers is always a threat in any free sprint when he steps onto the blocks.
With the help of some points coming from the women’s swimming and diving team, the 2008 season looks very promising. They just have to get past that pesky UC Santa Barbara team.

Baseball
We know that baseball season doesn’t officially start until Feb. 20, but it is arguably our greatest sports program, and that is a reason to get excited now.
Unfortunately, the Anteaters don’t play their first home game until March 3 when they play Loyola Marymount University. However, you can catch an intrasquad game in February to see the talent for the first time. UCI lost its two biggest arms in the off-season when the St. Louis Cardinals selected Scott Gorgen in the fourth round, and Bryce Stowell was selected in the 22nd round by the Cleveland Indians.
No worries. UCI returns juniors Daniel Bibona and Eric Pettis, who have been tabbed Louisville Slugger Preseason All-Americans. Christian Bergman has also earned preseason All-American nods, and was filthy in summer ball in Alaska.
UCI will look for someone to step up in the Sunday starter position and in long relief. UCI has plenty of young talented young arms, and even an old one. Senior Brock Bardeen, who you may know as the slugger who seemed like he hit a home run every at-bat late in the season, has begun pitching and has a mid-90s fastball to go along with a slider.
While pitching was our strength last year, hitting will definitely be our strength this year. UCI returns nearly everyone, except Ollie Linton who was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. A replacement for the gap he left in the field will be decided as the season nears.
Junior Francis Larson should take over as the permanent catcher and the power in the lineup. He led the team with seven home runs last season and looks to top that this season.
Senior Ben Orloff returns as arguably the best shortstop in the nation. He started all 60 games last season, and led the team with a .344 batting average. He is an outstanding fielder and batter. The Anteater leadership is in good hands for yet another season.
Watch out for players like Dillion Bell, Sean Madigan, Jeff Cusick, Crosby Slaught, Ryan Fisher, among others to play big this season.
The only real question going into the season with this team is “Will the greatest college baseball improv group in the nation, ‘The Company,’ survive this season?”

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