Speraw feels the love

IRVINE — UC Irvine men's volleyball coach John Speraw spoke of the future during a celebration of the 2012 NCAA champion Anteaters in front of about 300 on campus on Tuesday.

But whether that future will be at UCI, UCLA, or exclusively with the U.S. men's national team will not be known for at least a few weeks, said Speraw, whose 10-year tenure at the school has produced a legacy of three national titles in the last six seasons.

UCI Chancellor Michael Drake addressed the crowd and saluted both the team and Speraw, whom he said he admires as much as any leader on campus.

"[Speraw] is really spot on with his focus," Drake said. "He always seems to be focused on the task at hand. A team or a program might win one [title] by having the ball bounce its way a couple of times and that can be luck. And it maybe could actually come around again and get another one by being really good. But to win three, you have to be absolutely outstanding and I think that's really the case.

"I'm just proud of you, John, and what you've brought to the campus and the community and how you have elevated men's volleyball to being a sport that shows character and leadership, as well as wonderful athletic prowess ... So, we're here to celebrate the team, but also to celebrate you [Speraw]."

Drake also praised the character of the players for overcoming adversity that included a mid-season slump and two 2-0 deficits in games during the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament semifinal and final. UCI rallied to win both matches, against USC and Stanford, in five games.

The Anteaters (26-5) defeated USC, 25-22, 34-32, 26-24, in front of 9,612 in the NCAA final Saturday at USC's Galen Center

Drake noted that postseason wins over Penn State, UCLA, Stanford and USC, all major conference football schools with athletic budgets in the hundreds of millions, accentuated the excellence UCI has attained in the sport.

"The combined budgets of those athletic programs is somewhere north of Guam," Drake said. "So, the events of last weekend showed it's the quality on the court that counts, not how much money you throw at the program."

Speraw acknowledged the contributions of all his players and coaches, from the all-conference honorees to the seldom-used role players.

"This is a tremendous achievement and it's not lost on me," said Speraw, who said he has no job offers at the moment, but will meet with interested parties after a two-week commitment to the national team (on which he is an assistant coach), including a World League tournament next week in Italy.

"I think we're strong enough to make another couple runs at this thing," Speraw said, speaking about UCI. "I think we're going to be in the mix. We're going to recruit well. We've established tradition, which is one thing I didn't have when I arrived 10 years ago.

"The first [NCAA title in 2007] is special because it's the first. The second [in 2009] is validation that you're doing things right. Then, you win three and all of a sudden, you're in the upper echelon of all the traditional schools in men's volleyball, which has true significance. Man, I'm proud of what we've been able to do here."

Speraw said the emotion of winning a third national crown adds to the difficulty of his impending decision.

"Obviously, you've built something special here and, all of a sudden, it's even more special, so it would be harder to leave," he said. "And then I'm with the national team and all those guys say they love to see me. I listen to the national anthem and I'm a patriotic guy, so I think, OK, maybe this is the thing for me to do. I'm going to have to figure out what everything is, then I'm going to have to sit down with it, if I can find a quiet moment, and think about what I want to do with my future career. There are some pretty distinct options and they are not similar. So what direction do I want to go in my life? Where do I want to live? Those are big decisions that I have to make."

UCI freshman libero Michael Brinkley said the players are among those anxious to learn of Speraw's decision.

"We just all care so much for him, so we're all interested to see what he does," Brinkley said. "He's the best coach I've ever had and it would be a shame if he left. But I know wherever he goes, it will be exciting for him."


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World