A Bird? A Plane? No, It’s Carson!

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

Flying through the air is normally associated with a few things, including superheroes and anything with wings. Well, add one more to that list: red-shirt freshman volleyballer Carson Clark. You might as well call him Carson Clark “Kent” because when the offensive machine’s jersey comes on and the scoreboard lights up, he has the tendency to get his flight on.

However, when the evil-doers of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation are not disgracing the UC Irvine court, he kicks off the cape and kicks it on the beach. A transformation from impenetrable court intensity to laid-back student life unfolds, and that is where the “man of steel” comparisons begin.

Originally from Santa Barbara, Clark’s roots lie in a beach community, and his outlook on life and volleyball reflect that. Clark has no problem enjoying a summer swimming in the Pacific, or even a school year on the beach for that matter. After all, he’s living about 85 feet away from the sand in Newport Beach. But when the time comes, he has the ability to flip the switch and be the consummate competitor.

“I love volleyball and I want to win,” Clark said, “But I am pretty good about how I do my volleyball situation. I do not let volleyball become a big enough part of my life to where I will get burned out and not like it anymore.”

For this to remain a constant in his life, he opts to make his summers more about conditioning training rather than volleyball. Clark’s training in the summer has been dedicated to getting into shape, and he will only play some six-man volleyball on occasion as a release. This approach may raise questions about his work ethic, when in reality, it simply reinforces his athletic ability and most of all his confidence.

And with that in mind, we open up the second comparison to the Man of Tomorrow: his confidence.

From the start, Clark has had to compete for a spot on this year’s first-ranked volleyball team, and in every step of the way he has been challenged by the best players in the country: his own teammates. Within those challenges, Clark has stepped it up and has, thus far, been unphased when put in a pressure-packed situation. With the confidence factor being a big part of Clark’s game, moments like the upcoming NCAA Championships should not be a problem.

“[Clark] has played high-level volleyball matches. He has played in some big moments for the youth national team and played at the Norceca Championships,” explained Coach John Speraw. “The NCAA Championships will be a new environment to him, [but] he has been in championship games before … He is just a talented individual, and if he lets his game do what it does, he will be fine.”

Simply put, Clark is already able to handle his own in a big match setting, and it is only his first full season on the roster. His impact is obvious when watching him rack up kill after kill in a match, but on paper he is the best freshman in the country. He leads the top-ranked Anteaters with a 3.87 kills per set. In his 15 starts this season, he has averaged 4.7 kills, 1.45 digs, .085 blocks and .28 aces per set. On a squad that features the likes of dominating hitters like Taylor Wilson, Jordan DuFault and John Steller, Clark has impressively led the team in kills in 12 out of 15 matches. The kid is unstoppable.

But he is not merely a stats machine; Clark’s toughness takes him to another level, which ushers in the third comparison to the man of steel.

In numerous occasions this school year, Clark has risked life and limb while diving for a ball out of bounds and headed for the stands, and yet he remains fully intact.

Clark has moments of indestructibility.

For example, in the third set of a match against rival California State University, Long Beach, Clark leaped over the scorers table in pursuit of a bad pass headed for the stands. He glided almost completely over the statistician and ended up getting a hand on the ball.

He popped up with a grimace on his face, not because he was in pain, but because he missed the save.

This has happened many times, and the wild part is how he approaches these saves. When in pursuit, his mentality is not about whether he can get over these barriers, but how he can get over these barriers. And every time he flies over them for a crash landing, Clark gets right back up without a scratch.

Sound familiar?

But when looking at this 6-feet-5-inch, lanky left-hander, you would hesitate to say he has the build of the man of steel. However, to his credit, he does have a bit of screen appeal, which brings us to our final comparison to Superman: crowd favorite.

Earlier in the season, Clark was a fan favorite, mainly with the ladies, because he rocked some long, flowing, sandy-blonde hair. In one match, as he was going up for kills, hair flowing behind him, a whole row of girls screamed “Beautiful!” Once he came down from his kill, they went into junior-high gossip mode, giggling about how much they loved him.

But like the Blue Boy Scout, he does not allow such distractions to dictate his mode of operation. To the dismay of many female Anteater supporters, Clark recently got a hair cut.

“It’s a summer thing mainly,” Clark said. “It was too long to play right now and I didn’t want it to get ‘mullety.’ So I gave it a little cut, but it will be back.”

And with that statement it becomes obvious what Carson Clark’s one flaw is when it comes to volleyball: He does not have the confidence to rock a mullet and be the top freshman in the country at the same time.

If that’s his only Kryptonite, Clark should be in line for a historical career at UCI.