NCAA championship volleyball team with Obama
President Obama joins UC Irvine NCAA championship volleyball contingent comprising team alumni, Michael Drake, chancellor; Michael Izzi, athletic director; and Kathy Eiler, director of federal relations. Photo courtesy of the White House

President Barack Obama lauded the diverse talents of the athletic teams gathered on the White House lawn Monday in a celebration of NCAA champions.

“This is an incredible group,” he said. “We’ve got golfers, we’ve got runners, we’ve got soccer players and everything in between.” And adding with a smile: “We even have some volleyball-playing Anteaters.”

Representatives from the last three of UC Irvine’s men’s volleyball national championships teams joined Chancellor Michael Drake and Athletics Director Michael Izzi in upholding  the strong spirit of achievement. Anteaters captured the Division I crown in 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013 and Obama remarked on the campus’s tradition of winning.

“Who did you beat to win the title,” he asked at the private meeting that preceded the live-stream talk.  The Anteater response: “Which time?”

Current team members, many of which were on last year’s championship squad, were on the road completing a two-game sweep of the University of Hawaii. The Anteaters remain on the road, traveling to Cal Baptist Wednesday, March 12,  and BYU on Friday, March 14. They are 13-8 overall and 10-7 in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

“I can’t thank the 2013 National Champions enough for the opportunity to stand in their stead and honor their accomplishments,” said Jon Steller ’09.  “I am extremely grateful to the university and Athletics for their hard work in getting us here and their commitment to cultivating responsible, professional, and champion student-athletes. We are proud to be Anteaters.”

In public remarks, Obama acknowledged that being a champion is about more than what is accomplished on the field, on the court or in the pool. “It  means cracking books on late-night bus rides home or, after practice when everyone else has gone home, asking the janitor to keep lights on so you can run another drill or two or three. That’s the championship spirit we celebrate here today.”

“The President is a man that respects the work ethic and desire of our team,” said Ian Castellana ’13, ’12. “I am proud to have met him.”

In addition to accepting congratulations on the 2013 NCAA men’s volleyball title, the former team members took advantage of the occasion to record a short video inviting Obama to be the keynote speaker at commencement June 14. The initial invitation, issued to the President in April 2013, asked him to help UC Irvine kick off the celebration of its 50th anniversary by commemorating President Lyndon B. Johnson’s dedication of the campus grounds in 1964.  The White House expects to have an answer by April 2014.

Added Kevin Carroll ’12, ’09: “It’s something you dream about growing up as a child, going to the White House and meeting the President of the United States. For us today that dream became a reality and to do it with my best friends will be a memory that will live with me forever.”