Ryan Ammerman
Ryan Ammerman, Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA championship title game, comes from a volleyball family. UCI Athletics

Ryan Ammerman knows what it’s like to make a big comeback, both on the volleyball court and off.

After a frustrating junior year marked by inconsistent play, the 6-foot-9-inch setter seriously considered leaving school and joining a professional team in Europe. Fortunately for him and his team, he returned to UC Irvine for his senior season, in which he emerged as arguably the nation’s best men’s collegiate volleyball player and led the Anteaters to their second NCAA championship in three years.

“We weren’t expected to win the title this year, like we were in 2007,” Ammerman says. “We were predicted to finish fifth or sixth in our own conference. But we believed in ourselves and worked hard on overcoming our weaknesses. It was incredibly rewarding to prove that we could be the best.”

But to do that, Ammerman needed to make one more comeback, this time against USC in the May 9 championship game. The Trojans, who had swept past UCI in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals a week earlier, jumped ahead of the Anteaters two games to one. The first team to win three games would win the match and the title, and the Trojans looked unstoppable.

In what has been called one of the best finals in NCAA history, Ammerman led a furious UCI rally: The Anteaters took the fourth game with ease and outlasted the Trojans in the deciding fifth game, 15-12, with Ammerman setting up Jordan DuFault for the winning kill. Ammerman finished his college career as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, with 55 assists, six kills and a career-high 13 blocks.

To make the championship moment even more special, Ammerman’s family had made the eight-hour drive from their Colorado home to Provo, Utah, site of the semifinal and final matches. “To have them there to watch my last collegiate match and win a championship was incredible,” he says.

The oldest of eight children, Ammerman comes from a volleyball family. His oldest sister plays at Texas A&M, and twin brothers will play next year at Long Beach State and UCI.

Ammerman hopes to play professionally on the beach volleyball circuit this summer and then abroad in the fall; his size and blocking and setting skills will make him a prized commodity in the competitive European leagues. But his legacy at UCI, despite ups and downs, is assured.

“In my five years at UCI, we went to three Final Fours and won two championships,” Ammerman says. “It was a roller-coaster ride, but an awesome roller-coaster ride.”