NCAA Men's Volleyball Championship Notebook: Speraw to take his time

UC Irvine men's volleyball coach John Speraw addressed the media Wednesday at USC's Galen Center, in preparation for the Anteaters' semifinal match against Penn State in the NCAA Championship on Thursday at 6 p.m.

Inevitably, he was asked about his future and a potential move to UCLA to replace Al Scates, who retired after 50 seasons with the Bruins.

And while Speraw said he has been and would continue to concentrate solely on his team's attempt to win its third NCAA title in six years, he did say there would be no dramatic announcement this weekend about staying or leaving, whether the No. 1-seeded 'Eaters add to their 2007 and 2009 national championships or not.

"I won't even know [because] I haven't talked to anybody," Speraw said. "I haven't been able to do that."

Speraw said the process leading to his decision would take a couple months after the season.

But USC Coach Bill Ferguson, however, offered his assessment of Speraw's situation.

"He and I have talked about it a few times throughout the year," Ferguson said. "It's going to be interesting to see where he goes and how he does it."

Ferguson sounded almost envious of Speraw's stature on the UCI campus.

"He's kind of a big deal over there and that's hard to be in this business," Ferguson said. "At one point, [Speraw] made a comment: 'You know I had breakfast with the chancellor.' I don't know how many volleyball coaches have that kind of relationship with their upper-level management. I know he has faculty housing and he has a sweet deal.

"I think it's all going to be decided on how he prioritizes things," Ferguson said, noting that Speraw's ability to coach the men's national team in the 2016 Olympics is also a leading component to his decision. "He's got three entities that he's talking about [UCI, UCLA and the national team], so how will he leverage them against each other and try to figure out the best deal for him?"

Ferguson suggested Speraw may even take a break from college coaching to concentrate on leading the national team.

"I think there's a real good possibility of that," Ferguson said. "I'm not speaking for him, but my read, and knowing him for a bunch of years, is that [the national team and the Olympics] is the brass ring and that's what he wants. So, I think the key to his whole decision-making process is going to be, is he going to be able to do two of those three things at one time. Logistically, it would seem more plausible to do Irvine and the national team [which trains in Anaheim], but I think the national team is something he really, really wants."

•UCI junior Chris Austin is believed to be the first African-American starting setter in the history of the Final Four.

Austin, a transfer from Long Beach City College who grew up in Nevada, said he is happy to be considered a trail-blazer.

"I was talking to a friend who played at Long Beach State a few years back and he was sending me a congratulatory text," said Austin, who took over for previous starter Daniel Stork in mid-February and has guided UCI to a 15-3 record since and a national-best .356 hitting percentage. "He brought up that I should represent for African-Americans. It kind of hit me at that point that actually this is pretty special. There have been some African-American players in Division I, but I think I am the first [Final Four] setter."

Austin said it is a distinction he takes seriously.

"It's definitely special and it helps grow the volleyball community, because right now, the volleyball community is really small," Austin said. "Everyone knows everyone. If we can pull some of these African-American kids out who don't think volleyball is a route they can take, that just opens up the volleyball world and adds more popularity to it. It becomes bigger and bigger that way."

•Newport Harbor High product Connor Curry is the starting libero for Penn State (23-5), which is making its 14th straight Final Four appearance, its 27th overall.

"We redshirted him last year, behind our four-time All-American libero Dennis Del Valle," Penn State Coach Mark Pavlik said. "To be honest, our passing hasn't skipped a beat. Defensively, [Curry] has really picked up what we were expecting him to. And the great thing is, the last six to eight weeks, he has become a team leader.

"Connor is a great player,' Speraw said of the 6-foot freshman, who he coached on an 18-and-under team at Newport Beach-based Balboa Bay Volleyball Club. "He has come in and done an admirable job, which I would have predicted."

•Among the biggest challenges Penn State presents, Speraw said, is 6-7 senior outside hitter Joe Sunder, a two-time Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn. Player of the Year who is a second-team All-American this season.

"Physically, he does some very impressive things," Speraw said. "He hits the ball at a higher point than we've seen from anybody in [the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation]. "It's going to be an eye-opening experience for [UCI defenders]. He plays at a higher level than anybody in the MPSF. He's a 12-footer [touches 12 feet on his jump], and we don't have a 12-footer in this conference."

Added UCI All-American Carson Clark, who trained with Sunder last summer: "I can honestly say that [Sunder] is one of the best bic hitters I've ever seen."

•UCI senior middle blocker Dan McDonnell grew up in Arizona, where volleyball is not on the sports radar.

"I pretty much had zero awareness of college volleyball growing up, said the 6-6 native of Glendale, Ariz. "I never knew club volleyball and didn't even start playing until I was a freshman [on the University of Arizona club team]."

After initially turning down recruiting overtures from UCI, McDonnell changed his mind about transferring after his sophomore season. The difference-maker was watching a telecast of the Anteaters defeating USC in the 2009 NCAA title match.

•Thursday's matches will be streamed on with Saturday's being shown live on ESPNU.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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