Rain forced the Tuesday celebration of UC Irvine‚Äôs fourth NCAA men‚Äôs volleyball championship inside the Student Center‚Äôs Crystal Cove Auditorium, but it couldn‚Äôt dampen the spirit.
‚ÄúI see this win as part of our culture ‚Äď the culture of the team and of UCI as an institution,‚ÄĚ said first-year head coach David Kniffin. ‚ÄúI 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 clich√©d, we‚Äôre waking up.‚ÄĚ
Students, faculty and staff applauded as Chancellor Michael Drake described how the team ‚Äď seven points behind Brigham Young University in the second game ‚Äď looked calm and controlled.
‚ÄúThey had that look of, ‚ÄėWe‚Äôve got this,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Drake said, ‚Äúand 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.‚ÄĚ
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‚Äôs 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‚Äôs volleyball history to win a national title in his first season.
- Connor Hughes was named the tournament‚Äôs 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‚Äôs celebration with a personal observation: ‚ÄúThis is a team and a culture that accepts people‚Äôs differences, whether it‚Äôs different abilities, experiences or where we come from.
‚ÄúVolleyball championships are great, but beyond that, for me, the greatest thing is the people I‚Äôve met and the things I‚Äôve learned about the way people should be.‚ÄĚ