There is no doubt that junior opposite Carson Clark is the workhorse of the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team – but every star player has an off day. This is where fifth-year senior and social science major Cory Yoder steps in and provides reliability and versatility to one of the nation’s top volleyball programs.
Yoder’s .404 hitting percentage ranks first among UCI’s outside hitters and eighth in the entire MPSF. His 17 aces are tied for third on the team. Yoder’s 91 sets played and 298 kills are second behind Clark. There is no question that without Yoder’s contributions, the Anteaters would struggle to maintain their record above the .500 mark. But in reality, when it came time for Yoder to choose a school, the odds were stacked against UC Irvine.
Cory Yoder was born into a volleyball family. His uncle played the game overseas and his father, Bob Yoder, a three-time All-American at the University of Southern California, won two national titles, one as a player and another as a coach. So it was a no-brainer when Yoder’s father enrolled his son in clinics at the age of 9 and signed him up to play club volleyball at the age of 12. It was also a no-brainer for Yoder to grow up as one of the biggest USC fans.
Bob Yoder may have influenced his son’s early passion for the Trojans, but he is also one of the reasons why Cory stuck with the sport.
“When you are first starting, it’s hard to keep the ball in play, and more often than not it was your fault because it’s either you or your partner,” Yoder said. “My dad told me to value improvement. When you improved, it made the sport fun and made you want to improve.”
When it came to deciding which school he would attend, the Trojans were going to get an obvious look, but Yoder did not base his decision off his dad’s storied career or involvement with USC. When he took his recruiting trip to SoCal, he realized that the USC coach at the time was going to lose his job and that living in Los Angeles did not sound enticing to him.
After discovering that USC had its flaws, UC Irvine came calling. And for Yoder, it was a natural fit.
“I really liked the coaching here [at UCI],” Yoder said. “I grew up by the beach and I’ve always surfed, so living in LA was not too appealing to me, as opposed to where I live now in Newport Beach.”
When Yoder took his recruiting trip to UCI, he met Brian Thornton and Brett Simpson, two San Clemente natives, who told him that they were having a great time playing volleyball here at Irvine. This sealed the deal for Yoder and UCI.
Besides volleyball, surfing has been Yoder’s stress reliever, because he grew up so close to the beach in San Clemente.
“I get pent up when I don’t surf for a while,” Yoder said. “For me, it’s a stress reliever because in middle school and high school it was an everyday occurrence.”
Yoder’s time at UCI has been a roller coaster ride, but he has been able to enjoy the ups and persevere through the downs.
Yoder joined Anthony Spittle, Jordan DuFault and Kevin Wynne to form the second best recruiting class in the nation in 2006. Yoder, along with the other three, redshirted his freshman year and watched the Anteaters win the national title in May 2007.
As a redshirt freshman, Yoder saw action in 96 sets, which ranked second among UCI freshmen, but his first-year experience was marred by a subpar season. During his second year, Yoder started in the preseason and saw significant playing time, but a knee injury put an end to that. Yoder’s knee injury kept him out of action for a few months, and that’s when Taylor Wilson stepped in and seized the opportunity.
By the time Yoder’s knee completely healed, Wilson had taken over the outside hitter position and the Anteaters were in the midst of their second championship run in three years.
“I came off the bench as a sub, but it was tough to get back in after my injury,” Yoder said.
One of the biggest reasons why the ’Eaters defeated the Trojans in the national championship was because of the blocking clinic UCI put on, and a lot of that had to do with Ryan Ammermans’s 12 block assists. It was after the national championship when Yoder realized he could make a significant impact from the bench.
“I was always hitting against [Ryan Ammerman] in practice and he told me that me hitting against him made him a better blocker,” Yoder said. “It’s things like that that keep you from getting discouraged.”
Yoder entered the 2010 season as one of the undisputed starters, but after a few games and an average start to the season, Head Coach John Speraw decided to start Connor Hughes, a talented and explosive outside hitter. Yoder did not take this demotion personally, but instead saw it as an opportunity to perfect other facets of his game.
“I was always a guy who was in there to pass the ball,” Yoder said. “I was never an offensive threat, but this year I have worked on my offense and it’s paid off.”
Yoder’s hard work shows, as he is one of the most consistent offensive weapons UCI has on the 2011 roster. Even though Yoder is having a breakout season this year, at times he has been subbed out for Jeremy Dejno, another dynamic and energetic freshman. But again, Yoder is not bitter. Instead, he relishes this role and knows he can make an impact off the bench.
“I always tell the younger guys who aren’t playing, ‘you have to enjoy and know your role on the team because if you aren’t starting you still have a huge impact on the team,’” Yoder said. For the fifth-year senior, this mentality stems from the 2009 title run.
“I really value my time here,” Yoder said. “I would like to stay for longer because it’s so fun.”
Whether it is slamming a ball for a kill against an MPSF opponent or encouraging the younger players, Cory Yoder knows his role on the team and embraces it. His five years at UCI have been filled with highs and lows, but Yoder has enjoyed it and made the most of it.