Volleyball may be one of the world’s most popular sports, but its heart can be found in Orange County.

Nowhere else has the game taken such a strong hold. Local high schools produce the country’s best young talent, and county beaches teem with players holding court from sunrise to sunset. Amid this, UC Irvine has grown into a recognized volleyball power, as evidenced by the Anteater men winning national championships in 2007 and 2009.

UCI is also home to the largest international professional men’s volleyball tournament in the U.S. Six countries, eight teams and many Olympic-caliber stars will compete Sept. 26-Oct. 1 in the third annual Irvine International Volleyball Tournament — presented by ST/COMP Quiksilver — at Crawford Court.

Some of South America’s and Asia’s premier pro teams will join the UCI
men’s squad in what has become a showcase of world-class men’s
volleyball skill on American soil. These teams include:

“I’m excited to see these top professional squads from around the globe come to our home court,” says John Speraw, UCI men’s head coach. “It’s a great experience for our team and a rare opportunity for local fans to see volleyball at its highest level.”

In 2009, he and then-assistant coach David Kniffin organized the tournament to foster athletic and cultural exchange among squads from countries passionate about the international sport of volleyball.

Moreover, Speraw believes that competing against some of the world’s most talented pros helps prepare his team for the upcoming season. “This is a unique opportunity for our players to develop experience and maturity as well as increase their confidence as we build on the momentum from last year and start our promising 2012 season,” he says.

And the campus is an ideal setting for a major international tournament, adds Speraw, an assistant coach for the gold medal-winning U.S. men’s team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

“UCI students come from around the world, a lot of them from Asian nations,” he says. “This event supports UCI’s global outreach efforts by bringing in teams from many of our students’ home countries.”

Pool-play matches are at 3, 5 and 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Playoff games take place at 1, 3, 6 and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Daily tickets start at $10 and can be purchased here. Multiday passes are also available.