Russell helps UCI win NCAA men's volleyball crown

Del Oro alum standout comes on strong for Anteaters
By: Mike Ray, Gold Country News Service
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Saying that Kyle Russell went big in his first full collegiate volleyball season would be, well, huge.

Russell, a 6-foot-9-inch outside hitter, who graduated from Del Oro High in 2011, played beyond his years this season in helping the Universtiy of California, Irvine win its second consecutive NCAA men’s volleyball championship.

With Russell, a red-shirt freshman contributing key minutes for the Anteaters, UC Irvine turned back BYU, 25-23, 25-22, 26-24 last Saturday at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion to grab the NCAA Div. I crown.

Russell delivered UC Irvine’s game-winning kill to seal the first game win over BYU and get the Anteaters on the right track to the title. Earlier in the semi-finals, Russell contributed two more kills in helping Irvine turn back Loyola of Chicago, 26-24, 25,-18, 29-27 to gain the final.

“Kyle Russell came a long way this season,” said UCI head coach David Kniffin. “Coming last year from volleyball in Northern California, he was way behind the Southern California players in terms of competition, matches played and experience.”

“But he has great work ethic, the ability to learn and improve and has bought into the road map of what makes this program successful,” Kniffin added. “There were times this season when if he’s not on the court, we probably don’t win.”

For Russell, red-shirting last season as a true freshman was worth its weight in gold.

“I was able to learn a whole lot last year,” said Russell. “Practicing everyday against the best players in the country was huge. I was able to get a lot of experience that really helped me this season.”.

After shaking off some early-season nagging injuries, Russell started to come on strong for the Anteaters. In April, he had a career night in leading UCI to a 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-19) victory over then No. 8 Stanford.

Russell pounded a personal best 14 kills and hit .765 (14-1-17). He also added four digs and three block assists.

“I started to play with a lot more confidence,” said Russell. “As I started to put things together, my minutes started increasing.”

For his Stanford effort, Russell was named the Sports Imports/AVCA Men's Division I-II National Player of the Week.

After two straight NCAA crowns, Russell thinks that UCI has the tools to make another title run in 2014.

“We only graduate three players,” said Russell. “Hopefully we can try and make it to the top again next season.”