The 2007 freshmen class provided a big boost for Coach Kevin Ring’s UCSD Men’s Volleyball team and one of the standouts among that precocious group was outside hitter Jason Spangler. The 6-foot-3 Thousand Oaks High School grad pounded a team high 351 kills while hitting at a respectable .224 clip. He also contributed 122 digs, 17 aces and passed a solid .947. He clearly figures to be a leading light in 2008. “Jason will definitely carry a big offensive load,” says Ring. “He’s one of our most athletic jumpers and gets some hits that others on the team can’t. We’re looking to set him a lot of balls.” With the opening of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) schedule less than a week away, Spangler talked about his first year at UCSD and what’s down the road.
Q—Did you expect to see the amount of playing time and have the impact you did as a freshman?
SPANGLER—Coming in as a freshman with no college experience I did not expect much. The starting position is one that is earned and I fought for it every day. With that competition in training came positive outcomes and it was encouraging to see the results.
I was nervous when I got here and didn’t really know what to expect. I still get that nervous feeling every time I go on the court but after you’ve played long enough, instinct kicks in.
Q—Freshmen played a significant role on last year’s team. Was it beneficial to have other first year players in the starting lineup?
SPANGLER—It really helped having three other freshmen in the starting lineup last year. We could bounce things off each other and when any one of us was struggling, the others would be there to pick him up. Of course, it was good to have veteran influence from guys like Brooks Dierdorff and Eric Leserman out there as well.
I think the freshmen helped bring fresh attitude to the team and I can see the same thing this year. We didn’t know the past and were just focused on playing well and winning now.
Q—In what aspect do you think this year’s team will be better than last year’s?
SPANGLER—The freshmen are now sophomores. The experience we gained last year will make us a much better, stronger team this year. Also, our depth is far superior. Every position is being fought for every day in practice and it is making every person a better player. Practices are much more competitive where they sometimes tended to be one-sided last year in the 6v6 drills.
Coach Ring really did a nice job recruiting. We’re bigger and the skill of the new guys has made the returners fight harder. Everyone knows that if they don’t do it, there’s somebody right behind them that will.
Q—What part of your own game have you worked on most since last season?
SPANGLER—The toughest part of my game is keeping up with the passing. There are players in this league who can serve well over 60 miles per hour and it’s not exactly a walk in the park passing those balls. Passing along with serving are my most needed areas to be worked on and I commit myself every practice to bettering my game to compete at this high level.
Q—What is it like playing in the toughest men’s volleyball conference in the country?
SPANGLER—This is the kind of competition I have waited for. I always wanted to compete at the college level but never envisioned playing against the top schools in the nation. Ten of the top 15 teams in the country are typically from the MPSF. You never get a night off—they’re all talented and deep.
Q—Where’s the most hostile conference venue the team plays?
SPANGLER—Last year, our trip to BYU proivded an experience I will never forget. Having 2,000 people screaming at you while on game point about to take a game from BYU was very nerve-racking. I could not hear myself think. It may not have been overly hostile but it is a game I will never forget.
Q—Sophomore Billy Arnold and freshman Phil Dannan will be taking over for veteran starter Brooks Dierdorff at setter. How important is the relationship between setter and hitter?
SPANGLER—Brooks was studying abroad last fall and his coming in right before season started made it more difficult to establish that relationship and knowing how each other plays. It didn’t take us long to catch on, but it’s important that a setter knows each of his hitters—where he likes the ball, how quick he likes it, that kind of thing.
I have been playing with Billy since the beginning of last year and we both share that passion to win and it is amazing to see how friendship off the court can lead to accomplishments on the court. Billy has proven his skills in practice and when he’s out there he brings strong, vocal leadership to the team.
Phil came off the bench and played well in our first match. His sets were where they needed to be and I was really impressed with his defense. Both are extremely good and I think we’ll be successful with either on the floor.
Q—What do you consider the most difficult skill to master on a volleyball court?
SPANGLER—For my position, the most difficult volleyball skill is passing. There are so many elements to passing that all occur in less than a second
It comes down to focus and concentration. Coach Ring has us work on “five keys to passing” and it’s a checklist I try to go through before every serve. The specific area I need to get better at is shuffling my feet to get to the ball so that I’m controlling the ball instead of the ball controlling me.
As strange as it sounds, sleep is a big factor for me. When I sleep well the night before, I know I’ll come into practice or a game sharper and usually end up passing better.
Q—What does a typical (Coach) Kevin Ring practice consist of?
SPANGLER—We always start off with the warm up and an individual drill to get our minds focused on volleyball. In the fall season we started off working specifically on individual skills but as time progressed we concentrated more on team-building skills and game-type situations. I get the most out of competitive practices where there is a winner because there is always a desire to achieve that win.
Q—Over the course of the season, where do most volleyball injuries occur and what do you do in terms of preventative maintenance?
SPANGLER—Knees and shoulders are where volleyball players typically sustain injuries. We do a lot of repetitive jumping and hitting which takes its toll.
We will have nine or 10 guys in the training room prior to practice, exercising and stretching to get their knees warmed up. There are usually about a dozen in the training room afterwards getting ice for preventative purposes. We pretty much take over the place.
Q—What sports did you play growing up and how did you come to specialize in volleyball? Are there any other sports you’ve always wanted to try?
SPANGLER—I played some basketball, baseball and lacrosse when I was younger but only played volleyball and soccer in high school. I was a soccer goalie my freshman year of high school and made the varsity volleyball team that year as well.
My sophomore year came along and I ended up receiving a second degree concussion and third degree whiplash while playing goalie and decided to dedicate myself solely to volleyball. I’ve enjoyed all of the sports I’ve played and pretty much tried everything I was interested in.
Q—You’re a Southern California native (Thousand Oaks) but you recently spent the holidays in Tennessee where your parents have moved. What was that like?
SPANGLER—My dad’s career took him to Chattanooga, TN last year and I’ve found that it is a lot like my hometown of Thousand Oaks. We live up on a mountain in Tennessee and the city is surrounded by hills making it feel like the Santa Monica Mountains all over again.
The atmosphere is also similar and I love the barbecue and sweet tea. Overall, I am happy with the move but it is unfortunate that I don’t get back to Thousand Oaks much.
Q—As a Computer Science and Engineering major, what do you plan to do when you get that degree?
SPANGLER—A degree from UCSD gives one numerous options. This is a great school and I’m already seeing the job openings. I hope to apply my degree in an electrical or software based company. I have not always lived in California and would not mind moving somewhere else. It will be fun to see where my degree takes me.
Q—What are the team’s goals for 2008?
SPANGLER—These are still to be decided. Of course, one team goal is to win as many matches as we can but how we get there is completely based on our commitment. It is fascinating to see how the 10 new faces we have this year are contributing to what we hope will be a very successful season.
Q—What is one thing you’d like to accomplish, on and off the volleyball court, before you leave UCSD?
SPANGLER—I would love to go to the playoffs, which would mean we made an impact in our league. I would also love to see an A+ in a class but some things are not always within reach!