Colleges: Spoils of title linger

Off-season weight training began Monday for the UC Irvine men's volleyball team, which capped its 2012 season with the program's third national championship in three seasons.

Scott Kevorken, a sophomore middle blocker in 2012, said it was different not seeing departing seniors such as Carson Clark, Dan McDonnell, Kevin Carroll, Will Montgomery and Austin D'Amore.

D'Amore sat down with me following the team's on-campus celebration last week to add some perspective on his four years in the program.

D'Amore, who started in parts of four seasons and came off the bench to spark UCI to a five-game comeback victory over Stanford in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament final, said he leaves with more than two NCAA championships. He was a freshman on the 2009 NCAA title winner.

"One of the first things [Coach John Speraw] ever said to me was, 'You're coming to play volleyball, but you're going to leave a man, regardless.' And he's done it without even thinking about it and without me giving it a conscious thought. There was no, 'OK, this is what you need to do and when you are going to do it by.' But it has been great and I'm obviously very thankful I got to play for him. He's a big reason I came here, along with the entire coaching staff.

"I think that's why [Speraw] reads as many books as he does and why he does what he does to make himself the best coach he can be. It makes us better men."

D'Amore said he expects his emotions to be flowing at the upcoming team banquet.

"All the seniors will make a speech," D'Amore said. "I'll probably do just what [Ryan Ammerman, an All-American senior setter on the 2009 team] did. Ammo was looking all sharp in his suit and he gets up there and just starts balling. I remember, at that moment, I turned to one of my teammates and said, 'I'm going to be exactly like that when it's my turn.' And that is exactly what is going to happen."

Brian Thornton, an All-American setter on UCI's 2007 NCAA championship team, watched from the bench on Saturday as the U.S. men's national team swept Canada to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Team USA is coached by Alan Knipe, who played at Orange Coast College.

And Speraw, who was an assistant on the 2008 team that won gold in Beijing, is once again an assistant on this year's squad.

The U.S. team's training roster also includes former UCI standouts Jayson Jablonski and David Smith.

UCI junior All-American outside hitter Kevin Tillie missed last week's on-campus celebration because he was already in France to try out for the French Olympic team.

Darren Nelson, a senior associate athletic director at UCI, said he was anxious to fill the school's women's basketball head coaching vacancy as soon as possible.

Doug Oliver, an assistant with both the UCI women's and men's programs in recent years, is among those still being considered, Nelson said.

Nelson also said Arizona assistant Sue Darling is among those still in the running.

A pair of former Back Bay stars helped Stanford earn its second straight NCAA title in women's water polo on Sunday.

Corona del Mar High product Kate Baldoni, a junior goalie, had 15 saves in the 6-4 title-game triumph over USC. She was named MVP of the NCAA Championship.

Victoria Kennedy, a junior driver out of Newport Harbor High, had four goals in a 17-5 NCAA tournament quarterfinal win over Pomona-Pitzer on Friday. Kennedy had 13 goals for the season to help the Cardinal finish 26-2.

Ben Orlofff and Brian Hernandez, who were roommates during their tenure with the UCI baseball program, will enjoy a reunion when their respective California League teams meet in a three-game series beginning Thursday night at San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino.

Orloff, the Big West Conference Player of the Year in 2009, is hitting .293 with seven runs batted in and one steal. He is a second baseman for the Lancaster JetHawks, who were 18-19 through Sunday.

Hernandez, the Big West Defensive Player of the Year last season, is a third baseman for the Inland Empire 66ers. Hernandez is batting .292 with two homers, 17 RBIs and two steals. The 66ers were 19-19 through Sunday.

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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