The UC Irvine men’s volleyball team is back at it again. Just when we thought that our beloved Anteaters were finally having a down season after enjoying a successful run for the last four seasons, they are beginning to show flashes of life.
The 11th ranked Anteaters toppled top-ranked Cal State Northridge at home last Wednesday.
With the loss of Ryan Ammerman, Taylor Wilson and Brent Asuka, Coach John Speraw has been forced to play a chess match with his lineup since the beginning of the season. It is incredibly difficult to replace the strength the 6-foot-9-inch Ammerman brought at the setter position. Speraw has been juggling transfer Jeff Schmitz, Anthony Spittle (the third of three Spittle brothers to play at UCI) and red-shirt freshman Ian Wynne (whose brother is the stand-out senior Kevin Wynne). Each brings his own style, and lucky for us, they are all incredibly talented, which allows Coach to interchange them depending on the flow of the game.
As for Wilson, we still have the mind-boggling Carson Clark and the ultra cool Jordan DuFault. Clark is mind boggling because his talent mesmerizes you every time. Teammates are still amazed by some of the things Carson does in practice, and even anyone who has never been exposed to volleyball can appreciate his talent. DuFault reminds me of that turtle from Finding Nemo: he has the surfer talk down and that Rasta cool about him. It’s no coincidence that he likes to listen to reggae on game days. His demeanor allows him to be one of the calmest and collected players on the court.
The player who has stepped up as of late and joined up with Clark and DuFault is Corey Yoder. Yoder has gone a little unnoticed in recent seasons, even though he is arguably one of the best players on the team. His “never complain” attitude and work ethic has landed him a shot with the first team again, and he is rewarding us. Against CSUN, Yoder recorded 17 kills and 10 digs, but more impressively did not record an error in 29 swings. He has done whatever he has needed to do to get on the court, even taking reps at the libero position earlier in the season. He is peaking at the right time, and hopefully he can help carry the momentum from Wednesday’s win into the rest of the season.
Their record is not indicative of how good this team is. While UCI is 8-8, it is in the top tier of almost every league statistical category.
Setting has been the lone red flag statistic thus far, and Coach Speraw is addressing that issue in practice. He has even adapted a free throw drill that Shaquille O’Neal uses to help his game at the charity stripe. Pieces of athletic tape are placed three feet in front of the line and behind the line. Players serve from the two new boundaries and the original boundary in hopes of refocusing the player’s perception. While Shaq’s enormous arms and hands may make it physically difficult for him to correct his form, the Anteaters merely have to worry about their mechanics and technique, which can be corrected.
UCI’s record thus far is not entirely a reflection of the quality of the team either as this year may be one of the most competitive years in college men’s volleyball in history. Eight of the 12 conference teams have four or less losses and ten of 12 teams are at or over .500 overall.
The parity of quality of teams in the MPSF should give the madness of college basketball some company in March. The hottest teams going into the tournaments are traditionally the ones who do the best, and that is what this Anteater squad is going to be. This Anteater team is done with losing, and has the experience to be back in the tournament again.