California provides Maui's Spence room to grow
It's Seabury Hall without the ocean view. And the tradewinds. And the perfect weather.
But other than that, Cal Baptist University (Riverside, Calif.) is very much like his upcountry Maui high school, Corey Spence said. Good academics, good friends and good volleyball.
Very good volleyball.
Spence (Seabury Hall '04) is enjoying life at the small (3,100 enrollment) NAIA school, although he and the rest of the Lancers volleyball team didn't see all that much of the campus last month. Top-ranked Cal Baptist (5-5) played its first nine matches on the road before finally getting to play in their Van Dyne Gym last Thursday.
The Lancers, the two-time defending NAIA champions, swept NCAA Division I Princeton 30-19, 30-22, 30-26 to make their home opener a successful one. The 6-foot-2 Spence had four kills and two blocks in two games as an outside hitter.
When the Lancers host UC San Diego of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation on Saturday, Spence may be on the outside again or he might be at the libero spot, a position he played part-time last year.
Spence is third on the team in kills (71), averaging 2.15 kpg, and is second in digs (1.73 dpg). He had a team-high 19 kills in a 3-1 loss at then-No. 1 (in Division I) BYU last month.
"That was a fun game, probably the best of my life," said Spence, a starter in five of nine matches. "I'm not going to lie. Being a libero is boring, not as much fun as being an outside hitter. I love serving and blocking. But wherever they want me ... I'm here for the team."
That he was able to bang away successfully against the Cougars, one of the preseason favorites to win the NCAA title, was an "ah-ha" moment for Spence. The 2003 Maui Interscholastic League's Player of the Year said he doubted that he was good enough to play against D-I teams.
Lancers coach Ryan McGuyre always believed otherwise.
"Corey's mechanics are very good and he understands the game, which puts him ahead of some of our other guys," said McGuyre, who is married to former Rainbow Wahine player Jen Roberts. "He's not the biggest guy out there, but he is one of our better blockers, very effective. He's good above the net.
"When we're seeing 6-8, 6-9 guys, then size becomes an issue, but if the other team's opposite is smaller, then Corey is in there."
McGuyre said Spence had the best fall camp of any of his players. He particularly likes Spence's attitude.
"He's a real quality guy, really steady," McGuyre said. "In fall, he just shined in all areas.
"I love him for all that he can do. He's top-two in passing and defense and he's always had a live arm. He's a pretty dynamic player, is a really good up-tempo hitter, and keeps our offense quick.
"Do I like him better outside or as libero? I am trying to figure out what is best because I like him on the court. Next year, he'll probably be on the outside."
The Lancers play a tough schedule, leading to a deceptive record. Four of the losses have come to D-I schools: at BYU twice, at Long Beach State and at UC Irvine.
The other defeat was to Lindenwood (Mo.) at a tournament at Quincy, Ill., two weeks ago, a 3-2 loss where the Lancers had a 14-11 lead in Game 5 only to lose 19-17. It knocked Cal Baptist out of the No. 1 spot in the poll for the first time in over two years; the Lancers regained the top ranking in this week's poll.
At the Quincy tournament, Spence played against Lindenwood's Devin Shiroma (Damien '05), a freshman outside hitter for the Lions, and former Ku'ikahi Volleyball Club teammate Mike Contee (Iolani '04), a libero/setter for Quincy.
"It's fun, seeing other players from Hawaii," Spence said. "There are a lot of them out there. And I want to wish them all good luck for this season."
Spence will see a number of them next month when the Lancers play 11 matches in 24 days. Cal Baptist hosts Contee's Quincy team March 6 then will be on the road at USC (B.J. Takushi, Iolani '05) on March 29 and at Pepperdine (Jon Grobe, Iolani '02; Eric Liebert, Punahou '04) on March 30. On April 1, the Lancers host Hope International (Kainoa Brede, Castle '05; Poyer Poia, Farrington '99; Jacob Kamalani, Kamehameha '00).
The Lancers are still in the rebuilding mode after losing several starters to graduation. Cal Baptist, the first school to win two consecutive NAIA titles, is looking for a third.
"After watching the (New England) Patriots, I'm seeing just how hard that is to do," McGuyre said about three-peating.
Spence is confident about the team's chances.
"We're young and still trying to find out about ourselves," he said. "We have several international players who are a little older and it's fun to learn from their experience. We've had a tough schedule, but we're bouncing back.
"I love our team to death. I don't want to sound cocky, but I definitely think we can win again. To win three (in a row) would be amazing."
As much as he is enjoying Cal Baptist, Spence said his dream would be to return to Hawaii and play for the Warriors. But "as awesome as it would be to play at UH, it would be hard to leave this team," he said. "Our team is really close."
The closest Spence might come to playing in the Stan Sheriff Center again -- he and Seabury Hall played there in the 2003 state tournament -- is next season. The Lancers are tentatively on Hawaii's schedule.
"I'd like to play in front of all my family and friends again," he said.