Rain forced the Tuesday celebration of UC Irvine’s fourth NCAA men’s volleyball championship inside the Student Center’s Crystal Cove Auditorium, but it couldn’t dampen the spirit.
“I see this win as part of our culture – the culture of the team and of UCI as an institution,” said first-year head coach David Kniffin. “I will take credit for the 2 percent that I contributed, along with our senior staff here, but the culture really runs back to when UCI was just getting started. Former Chancellor Ralph Cicerone used to say that UC Irvine was a sleeping giant, and without sounding too clichéd, we’re waking up.”
Students, faculty and staff applauded as Chancellor Michael Drake described how the team – seven points behind Brigham Young University in the second game – looked calm and controlled.
“They had that look of, ‘We’ve got this,’” Drake said, “and they were able to dig out one point at a time, again and again, and go on to win. Watching the team, I had the feeling that they knew what they had to do, and they did it. This match was one of the greatest displays of determination I have ever seen.”
The 3-0 sweep of top-ranked BYU earned UC Irvine its second consecutive national championship and its fourth in the last seven years.Among other accomplishments:
- The second-seeded Anteaters became the first team to garner back-to-back NCAA volleyball championship titles since UCLA did in 1995 and 1996.
- UC Irvine, which swept USC in last year’s final, is the first school in 30 years to win consecutive volleyball championship matches without losing a set.
- Kniffin became the second coach in NCAA men’s volleyball history to win a national title in his first season.
- Connor Hughes was named the tournament’s MVP and made the NCAA All-Tournament team, along with fellow Anteaters Chris Austin, Michael Brinkley, Collin Mehring and Kevin Tillie.
Graduating senior Austin closed Tuesday’s celebration with a personal observation: “This is a team and a culture that accepts people’s differences, whether it’s different abilities, experiences or where we come from.
“Volleyball championships are great, but beyond that, for me, the greatest thing is the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned about the way people should be.”