There will be a new team at one of the most prestigious non-conference tournaments in college men’s volleyball next season.
UC Irvine will make its first appearance in program history at the upcoming Outrigger Invitational, which had its four-team tournament field unveiled earlier this week.
Coach David Kniffin said in an interview with Off the Block on Friday that he is grateful for the opportunity to have the Anteaters compete in the early-season tournament. The coach also said playing the matches in Hawaii will be a special experience for entire team.
“Being invited to the Outrigger is probably the highest honor in the realm of men’s Volleyball scheduling,” Kniffin said. “Seeing the auntie’s and acknowledging the history of volleyball culture on the island is such a humbling experience for our guys. Their experience as players, and mine as a coach, will pass too quickly. But the tradition and the sense of community around volleyball, that is a Hawaiian specialty.”
UC Irvine finished last season at No. 6 in the national coaches poll and lost to Stanford in five games in the MPSF Tournament quarterfinals. In addition, the Anteaters return three starters for the upcoming season, including All-American libero Michael Brinkley.
Along with UC Irvine, the traditional Outrigger Invitational staples of Penn State, Ohio State and the host school Hawai’i will participate in the three-day non-conference tournament.
The Outrigger Invitational since starting almost 20 years ago has typically featured a team from the MPSF, MIVA, EIVA and the host school Hawai’i.
Of the four-team field UC Irvine finished with the highest national ranking in the final coaches poll last season. Penn State after reaching the NCAA Tournament semifinals finished one spot behind UC Irvine, while Hawai’i was ranked No. 12 but did not qualify for the eight-team MPSF Tournament.
Kniffin said he is looking forward to his team being tested early in the season with these three non-conference matches.
“I am expecting high level volleyball in one of the finest facilities in the United States of America,” he said. “All three teams look to be formidable opponents, so I expect us to be tested early.”
With the addition of UC Irvine, UCLA will not compete in the Outrigger Invitational for the first time since 2010. The Bruins have won the non-conference tournament the last four years
The Outrigger Invitational besides adding UC Irvine will also experience a format change for the upcoming season.
The tournament traditionally has featured each team playing three matches in a round-robin format. However, Penn State and Ohio State will only play two matches and not face each other at the Outrigger Invitational because of a scheduling conflict at the Stan Sheriff Center.