Kniffin, who played and coached previously at UCI, is revered by current and former Anteaters players who universally praise his ability to connect with each individual in the program, offering both support and motivation to enhance performance on the court and personal growth off it.
Though he spent last year at Illinois, where he was an assistant for the women's team that advanced to its first NCAA final, Kniffin's footprint was all over the Anteaters' 2012 national championship campaign.
It is that presence that Kniffin will bring to the table for his alma mater, which will now face the challenge of chasing a Speraw-led UCLA program poised to return to the stature that brought 19 NCAA titles under Speraw's predecessor and mentor, Al Scates.
Kniffin will be aided by assistant Mark Presho, who will return for his 10th season as an assistant at the school to provide his own brand of interpersonal gold. Presho's ability to connect with players was also an integral part of the program's success during 10 seasons under Speraw.
So fervent was the support for Kniffin, former players, supporters and alumni created a Facebook page and a website (hirekniffin.com) to voice their advocacy of Kniffin's candidacy in the days before he was hired. Former players Carson Clark, Jordan DuFault, Paul Spittle, Kevin Wynne and Taylor Wilson, among others, shared their online thoughts about what Kniffin meant to both them and the program.
The Facebook page, through Monday afternoon, had 171 likes and countless supportive comments, many from the aforementioned cast of former stars.
In addition, UCI enlisted current players Jeremy Dejno, Chris Austin and Ian Castellana as members of the committee charged with interviewing perspective candidates. The players, from the moment Speraw announced his departure, voiced their vigorous hopes that the school would hire someone familiar with the unique culture in the program.
With Kniffin, Presho and a cast of returners led by All-American Kevin Tillie, All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honoree Dejno, as well as starters Austin, Connor Hughes, Scott Kevorken and libero Michael Brinkley, UCI could be ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll.
Early reports noted that Robert Chai, the popular UCI men's volleyball team's statistician during Spreaw's tenure, would return to the Anteaters next season. But Chai said Sunday that those reports were premature and he would need to speak with Speraw, his childhood friend, before deciding whether to remain at UCI or perform the same role at UCLA next season. That conversation may not take place until after Speraw returns from London, where he will be an assistant coach on the U.S. men's national team at the upcoming Olympic Games.
Moves involving former UCI baseball players in the minor leagues include a promotion and a demotion.
The promotion came after a Saturday game for Ben Orloff, the 2009 Big West Conference Player of the Year and Brooks Wallace Award winner who bounds within the Houston Astros organization from Single-A Lancaster of the California League to Corpus Christi of the Double-A Texas League.
Orloff, playing his collegiate position of shortstop lately after being used primarily at second base in his previous minor-league stops, hit .288 in 285 at-bats at Lancaster. He had 29 runs batted in, eight doubles and was successful on seven of nine stolen-base attempts. He was nine for 18 in a six-game hitting streak that ended with an 0-for-5 outing Saturday.
Gorgen was 0-1 in four starts with Memphis, posting a 5.89 earned-run average in 181/3 innings. His last start with the Redbirds was July 8.
UCI baseball coach Mike Gillespie received some good news Friday, when the San Diego Padres signed his grandson, Cade Kreuter, to a minor-league free-agent contract.
Kreuter, who had eight home runs, 24 RBIs and hit .288 at USC as a freshman in 2010, transferred to the University of Miami after USC fired his dad, Chad Kreuter, as coach.
The younger Kreuter, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound first baseman, hit .228 with one homer and nine RBIs in limited time in 2011 with the Hurricanes and was limited to just one at-bat in 2012, due to injury.
The deadline for 2012 Major League draftees to sign passed Friday. Orange Coast College products Calvin Drummond and Chris Carlson did not sign.
Drummond, a pitcher on OCC's' 2009 state title team, will return for his senior season at San Diego.
Carlson, the California Player of the Year at OCC in 2012, will be a junior next season at New Mexico State.