Brande: Local flavor on next level

With a major Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's volleyball match-up this Saturday night at UC Irvine's Bren Event Center between UCI, ranked No. 8, and the No. 1-ranked UCLA Bruins, it is interesting to watch as our local boys excel in the college ranks.

UCI's Connor Hughes (a Costa Mesa resident) who led Mater Dei to 2009 state championship, will lead the Anteaters. For UCLA, Ian Sequeira (Newport Harbor) starts at libero for the Bruins. UCLA, coached by former UCI coach John Speraw, defeated UCI on Monday night, 3-0, but this season, everybody seems to capable of beating every team.

Sequeira's former Newport Harbor teammate, Cody Caldwell is the starting outside hitter for Loyola-Chicago who already has wins over UCI, BYU, and No. 13-ranked Harvard. Cody's team made the NCAA Final four last year for the first time in school history and looks to repeat this season.

The roster at Stanford includes three former Newport-Mesa players. Spencer Haly (Corona del Mar) is a starting middle blocker who is No. 2 in blocks per game and No. 1 in hitting percentage for the Cardinal, while former Sea King teammate, Joe Ctvrtlik, is the backup setter. Joe is backing up 6-foot-6 Jordan Shaw, who is also a sophomore. Kevin Rakestraw (Newport Harbor is a freshman who has yet to see action. I am sure he is working on adding some muscle to his 7-foot frame.

Pepperdine is also battling for the top position. Libero Brennan Anderson, who played many positions for Coach Steve Conti's Corona del Mar teams, is the starting libero. He transferred from Ohio State, where he also was the starting libero. Evan Dean (CdM) is a serving specialist for the Waves. They will be joined next year by Clay Carr (Newport Harbor), who has committed to Pepperdine.

Joey Booth (CdM) started most of last season at outside hitter for the USC Trojans. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury in the fall and has not seen action yet this season.

At UC Santa Barbara, Weston Nielsen (CdM) has played in every match for the Gauchos as an outside hitter. Ryan Thompson (Costa Mesa) is having an outstanding season at middle blocker. The 6-9 Thompson was voted all-tournament at the Gaucho Asics tournament.

At Ohio State, Danny Baker (CdM) is the starting libero. Another Saturday match features Ohio State and Loyola-Chicago, which shares the top spot in the NCAA poll with UCLA.

Connor Curry (Newport Harbor) returns for his third season to lead Penn State as their starting libero, where he is the leader in digs. The Nittany Lion is again the power in the east although Harvard in the Ivy League has emerged as a major challenger.

The local junior college teams are also very good. Steven Duhoux (Newport Harbor) will set at Irvine Valley College for former Newport Harbor Coach Tom Pestolesi. At Orange Coast College, Jack Stafford (CdM) and Ryan Clayton (CdM) as well as Kyle Hurst (Newport Harbor) are all vying for playing time for Coach Travis Turner.

As the season progresses, it will be exciting to see how these players progress.

The UCLA-UCI match on Saturday night at 7 at the Bren Center will be a good one.

CHARLIE BRANDE is a former coach at Newport Harbor High, Corona del Mar and UC Irvine.

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