Projected preseason top 10 national rankings: No. 2 UC Irvine

UC Irvine is projected by Off the Block to be No. 2 in the preseason national rankings.

Off the Block throughout December and January will reveal its projected men’s volleyball preseason top 10 national rankings and will profile a top-10 team each day. The Off the Block projected preseason rankings were created independently of the AVCA Coaches Poll and the Volleyball Magazine Top 10 Media Poll.

The college men’s volleyball season begins this week and concludes with the Final Four in May.

Check out what to know about UC Irvine as it enters the 2012 season.

Coach John Speraw has three starters from last year returning for the upcoming season, including Preseason All-American outside attacker Carson Clark. Clark, a 2011 All-American, was third in the nation last season with a 4.53 kills per game average and led the MPSF with 47 aces. The Anteaters also added outside attacker and transfer student Kevin Tillie. Tillie competed for Thompson Rivers University in the Canadian college league last season and is a member of the French Junior National Team. UC Irvine was projected to finish the conference in second place in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll.

The Anteaters ended the regular season in fourth place in the MPSF, and it lost to then-No. 1 USC in the conference tournament semifinals. UC Irvine opened the season 6-8 before going 12-3 in its final 15 regular season matches to earn a top-four seed in the MPSF Tournament. It also had a six-match winning streak to end the regular season, including victories against Ohio State and UC Santa Barbara. In addition, UC Irvine in non-conference play defeated Penn State on the road.


UC Irvine will play BYU in the first round of the UC Santa Barbara Invitational on Jan. 6. BYU was projected to win the MPSF this upcoming season in the MPSF Preseason Coaches Poll. This match also has the potential to be one of the first times in NCAA men’s volleyball history that the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the national rankings will play each other during the first week of the regular season. For more on UC Irvine upcoming schedule, check out the team’s complete schedule breakdown.


Off the Block: Coach, what stood out for you the most with your team this preseason?

John Speraw: The thing I most liked to see was how the guys worked in the offseason and trained in a short period of time. The gym is so competitive and there is an abundant amount of depth. This is the deepest team we’ve had. We will have a bunch of new guys on court. We lost a lot of ball control with [Cory] Yoder and [Jordan] DuFault leaving and our setter Anthony Spittle leaving. We are going to have a pretty talented team, and I feel we will be competitive. We didn’t play any of the NCAA teams in the preseason. I think that we are going to be pretty good by the end of the year.

OTB: Speaking about some of the players you lost from last season, who are you going to have replace Yoder and DuFault as your starting outside attackers?

JS: At outside attacker there are four guys. Kevin Carroll as a senior is having an outstanding fall, and I’m excited about Jeremy Dejno. He brings a tremendous serve, so he’s going to spend time on the floor. Then there is Connor Hughes who redshirted for us last year, and he is in the mix. There is also Kevin Tillie, and he’s a new player and people have heard a lot about him and he will compete for playing time.

OTB: So have you settled on a starting lineup or is that something you’ll be figuring out throughout the seaspm?

JS: It might be a little bit of both. I don’t know that I’ve been in this position before and have had this level of depth. We will have some options this year and have the possibility to do all kind of things this year.

OTB: Your team was picked to finish the MPSF in second place in the conference’s preseason coaches poll. How do you think the MPSF will play out this season?

JS: I’m not sure how it will shape up. For my preseason poll, I didn’t get to see any of the teams this fall so I went on the teams from last year and I had BYU and Stanford at the top. I think UCLA returns some guys and USC is going to be a factor with Tony Ciarelli. He’s the best outside attacker in the conference. We don’t know much about Hawai’i, and I think that Pacific has a whole new crew.

OTB: One of the offseason moves you’ve made that has created a little buzz was adding professor Andrea Becker, a sports psychologist, to your coaching staff. Can you talk a little bit about the process of you deciding to make this move?

JS: We did that when David Kniffin left to be an assistant coach for the Illinois women’s [volleyball] team. David left, and I was kind of thinking of different options and this hit me out of the blue. I’ve been friends with Andrea, and she is an exceptional individual at her craft. We had to figure out how it would work. I’ve always wanted her here in some capacity. I figured we’d make a run at her full-time and Cal State Fullerton was very accommodating with her class load. It’s great to add someone who is quite talented and does something different. She makes a program better. … She is a great addition and gives us new insight.