UC Irvine men’s volleyball this season has been a true pleasure. I have written in the past about how much I enjoy these matches I cover for the New University, but last week was truly a joy to watch. These guys, men, specimens, beasts, whatever you prefer to call them, are without a doubt providing me with my most memorable year as a student here at our glorious UCI. This may tread on the line of man-love, but I can’t help it; these dudes are the illest.
A good example of this happened last week at USC.
I arrived last Wednesday at the ridiculously overwhelming Galen Center across the street from the USC campus. It mirrors a mini Staple Center, JumboTron and all.
I could not help but laugh. It was my first time covering something at USC and its over-the-top appearance simply attracts animosity. It is not even jealousy that I felt, but rather an inclination to get violent. The Galen Center exudes the kind of arrogance that breeds hatred. It reminded me of when you want to beat up the pretty boy who is better at everything, just to bring him down to your level. Looking at this building was like looking at everything I am glad not to be a part of. Its all brick exterior, huge concrete staircases leading to wide halls of hanging banners with traditions stitched in red and gold lettering and what seemed like an army of security guards that welcomed the people shuffling in was all just ridiculous.
As I got cozy in my seat at the press table, I was immediately disappointed with their media relations guy. He was really helpful and professional in every way, except for the moment he decided to show me to the seat right next to what has to be the most annoying PA announcer in the league. Loud, obnoxious, nick-naming everybody and their mother, he kept trying to get me to laugh as I prepped for the game. I was not excited about this part of the night to say the least.
And then it all went south. The lights turned off, the power jam music turned on and the JumboTron lit up the arena with a pitiful attempt at intimidation. Video highlights of the USC team flashed across the screen as the PA announcer reeled off stats at an alarming rate. And then it happened: the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen at a collegiate-level volleyball match. The JumboTron displayed their mascot, a Trojan, doing some sword maneuvers that ended with him stabbing the UCI logo in the center of a court. It was animated, outlandish and I actually started laughing at how excited the crowd got about it. Dorks.
Then it was game time. Not surprisingly, we were simply smoother than the Trojans in the first set: more in sync, more mobile and more dominant than they were. It was awesome to watch. But as the match got into the later sets, the momentum started to shift both ways as it so often does and the Trojans were showing glimpses of an upset.
After a long-fought fourth set that went in favor of the Trojans, the match was sent to the fifth set. This is where my night as a spectator, reporter and fan started to come together. The look of determination in our guys was inspirational. They looked at their opponents and decided it was their match to win, they wanted to do it, and they did it. There was no way they were losing to these over-hyped pretty boys at USC.
Big Jon Steller is the epitome of a competitor. He came in off the bench in the third set after the Anteaters started to lose a little momentum, and like he has done for years, he came in and started to get kills left and right. His offense is impressive, but his emotional impact is undeniable. As a senior All-American, he has taken an extremely unselfish approach to the season and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the win, even if that means getting his team hyped from the sidelines.
Another senior that has really made this season something special to watch is Taylor Wilson. He dominated the USC net on Wednesday with 19 kills and six blocks. He has become increasingly more important to the team’s offense as the season goes along after a slightly slower start at the beginning. He had to battle some tough injuries throughout preseason, and his status as a starter was questionable at the start, but he has truly come into his own thus far.
Another impressive player that has been a surprising standout is senior Ryan Ammerman. He is a setting machine and his lengthy 6-foot-8-inch frame has made Irvine a blocking beast. At one point, they were the second best team at the net in the nation mainly because of how much net Ammerman could cover with the middle blockers.
But at the end of the day, it all starts with the coach. John Speraw is continually changing my perspective on how a team should be run. He is a class act with an uncanny sense of how to manage one of the best teams in the country in the best conference in the country. After the game at USC, I asked Coach Speraw what the next step in the season is. He responded with a very wise, “We need to focus on our academics.” This was not just a political statement that he is supposed to say. He knows that if the team doesn’t step up their focus in the classroom now, the stress of finals will hinder them as they get deeper into the season. The next three weeks is very important for the team and its goal to reach the final four.
But if you ask me, I do not care what happens at the end of the season. What has happened up until now is enough for me to remember this season for a very long time. Thanks guys.