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UC Irvine Notebook / John Weyler : Volleyball Team Wades Into WIVA’s Deep Water

Some want to be a big fish in a small pond. But the UC Irvine men’s volleyball team has decided on the minnow-in-the-Pacific route.

The Anteaters will make their debut as members of the elite Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. Friday night, playing host to UC Santa Barbara at 7:30 in Crawford Hall. In case you’re not well-versed in men’s collegiate volleyball, six of the top seven teams in last year’s final poll were WIVA members and every team in the conference was ranked in the top 20.

Irvine was 7-18 as an independent last season.

“Two years ago, our first year when we were a club team, we wouldn’t have had a chance to win a game,” Coach Bill Ashen said, “but now I think we’re more like a decent-sized tuna than a minnow in the ocean.

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“We’ve played a lot of these teams over the past 2 years and now I think we’re closer to beating them. It will take a night when they play mediocre and we play over our heads, but I think we’ll win a match.”

If you’re looking forward to a 1-and-something conference record, you take the little victories where they come. For instance, the Anteaters figure they have accomplished something if they make WIVA opponents use their first-string players.

“Physically, we still can’t compete with most of those teams,” captain Dave Pettker said. “You always try to win, and I think we will win a couple of matches, but keeping their first string in the game is a definite goal.”

Pettker, who has been on the team since the beginning, and Ashen feel a lot better about this year’s squad because of the addition of three front-line players who have never played a collegiate match--6-foot 4-inch freshman Keith Boothroyd, 6-5 freshman James Felton and 6-6 junior Steve Florentine, who played basketball at Irvine for 2 years.

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Taller players mean a chance at a few blocks, which is the easiest way to get points in volleyball.

“We’re in a real transition situation right now because we finally have the height to compete,” Ashen said. “The freshmen are better than the players that have been here for 2 years.”

And things figure to get better, if you believe Pettker, an outside hitter who has 2 years of eligibility remaining because Irvine was a club team the first year.

“The progress this far is special to me because I’ve been here since the beginning,” he said. “Coach is a good recruiter and the best high school volleyball in the country is played in Orange County. Players are starting to call him.

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“In 2 years, I think we’ll be a force in WIVA. Hopefully, I’ll still be out there playing.”

Sometimes, the wonders of modern technology are more than Irvine basketball Coach Bill Mulligan can bear.

“I hate the invention of videotape,” Mulligan said after viewing a replay of the Anteaters’ 71-62 victory Saturday at San Jose State. “You go away from the game really high and then you see the tape and you say, ‘Hey, we were really bad.’ ”

He didn’t have to see the tape of Monday night’s 104-71 humiliation at Utah State to know how poorly the Anteaters performed, but it gave him the chance to register his displeasure with every play . . . and replay.

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Mulligan saw some things he liked on the tape of the San Jose State game--such as his team’s intensity level, offensive rebounding and free-throw shooting (25 of 26)--but even that tape elicited more criticism than rave reviews.

“We didn’t run the offense well at all,” Mulligan said, “and we’ve got some guys who ought to be paying me to play.”

He pointed the finger at three players in particular:

--Forward Rob Doktorczyk, who earned a starting spot with his play off the bench against UCLA and UC Santa Barbara, played 24 minutes against the Spartans and had 2 points and 1 rebound.

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--Forward Troy Whiteto, who had not played since Dec. 18 against Loyola of Chicago, played 14 minutes and finished with 2 points and 4 rebounds.

--Guard Kevin Floyd, who made just 4 of 13 shots and didn’t play much defense.

Mulligan found a reason to fault just about every Irvine player after reviewing the Utah State game. A sampling:

--"The Doktorczyks (brothers Mike and Rob) think they’re 6-9 point guards. They envision themselves perimeter players, but someone has to play the post.”

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Rob Doktorczyk has been replaced at starting power forward by Ricky Butler.

--"We’ve been stressing blocking out and offensive rebounding and (freshman Brian) McCloskey leads us in rebounds with 6 in 7 minutes.”

--"Utah State’s one weakness is underneath and just about every time we went inside, we scored. But most of the time (guards Rod) Palmer and Floyd decided to do their own thing.”

Palmer and Floyd were a combined 7 of 27 from the floor.

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Mulligan said Floyd should take note of Mike Labat’s fate. Labat started every game before Saturday night in San Jose, where he did not get off the bench.

“There are no fat cats,” Mulligan said. “I told Kevin, ‘If you don’t start taking better shots and play some defense, you’re not going to play forever just because you made a layup against UCLA.’ ”

Floyd, whose coast-to-coast looping lay-in gave the Anteaters to a 91-90 victory over the Bruins, might be a little fatter than Mulligan will admit, though.

His defense is erratic at best and he has a tendency to be out of control, but he’s the closest thing Irvine has to a true point guard and he’s explosive enough to draw the opponent’s best defender.

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So Mulligan will continue to play him and hope he plays like he did against the Bruins (10 of 16 from the field, 26 points and 8 assists) once in a while.

Anteater Notes

Tennis player Courtney Weichsel finished seventh, one spot short of making the U.S. National team that will compete in the Maccabiah Games in Israel, during a qualifying tournament at the University of Pennsylvania this week. She lost in the quarterfinals to No. 1-seeded Andrea Berger and then reached the consolation final before losing to No. 8 Lynn Rosenstrach, a player she had beaten in the first round. . . . A dedication ceremony for Irvine’s new 500-seat tennis stadium will be before Saturday’s Irvine-UC Santa Barbara men’s match at 1 p.m. The courts aren’t new, but the grandstands are.


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