The Final Stretch
The Daily Bruin tells the stories of different UCLA men’s volleyball players throughout the week as the team begins postseason play on Saturday.
Erin Ng / Daily Bruin senior staff
Senior middle blocker Spencer Rowe has been a leader for UCLA men’s volleyball this season. His passion and disciplined commitment to the sport have served as an example to his teammates.
BY LEONARDO VILLALOBOS
Spencer Rowe plays with coolness in his head and fire in his heart.
While his next match might be his last, he’s played as if that were the case all season. Coach John Speraw never named an official captain of the UCLA men’s volleyball team – he didn’t have to. Rowe, a senior middle blocker, is the unquestioned leader on and off the court.
“He leads by example, not just with words.” –teammate Gonzalo Quiroga
Rowe knows how to celebrate kills and blocks. He yells, he fist pumps, he jumps – often all at the same time and with ferocity. When you put everything you have into the game, you deserve to savor every point.
“I never take plays off. If I didn’t do everything 100 percent, I would feel so guilty,” Rowe said. “The only way I can sleep peacefully is if I know I gave it my all. As long as I know I did that, I can be OK with any result.”
Rowe is known within the team for being strict with his training and diet; he gives up alcohol during the season and is one of the few who can resist the baked goods made by team manager Virginia Pham for the players after practice.
“I think sometimes people are uncomfortable with the mental side of the game…but Spencer is one of those players who is going to do whatever is necessary to become the best he can become.”
For Rowe, it’s all about doing whatever it takes to earn an edge.
“It’s a nice mental advantage to know you’re going out on the court against guys that may not be like that. You’re healthier and stronger than they are,” Rowe said.
“I always play better towards the end of the year because I’m getting stronger and stronger the whole time while people who aren’t taking care of themselves as much break down.”
A regular day in Rowe’s life during the season is a cycle of breakfast, lift, snack, class, nap, training room, practice, dinner and sleep. Rowe’s commitment level is largely unique, but it’s something that his teammates can look at and try to replicate.
“When you have one of your senior leaders living their life that way and being so focused on maximizing the opportunity that they have to compete here at UCLA, it spreads to other guys,” Speraw said. “The freshmen see that and they’re more likely to live their lives with that same dedication.”
Rowe’s influence isn’t restricted to the freshmen. The other senior leaders on the team respect him for being more than just a vocal leader and truly living what he preaches.
Perhaps no one knows it better than senior outside hitter Gonzalo Quiroga, Rowe’s roommate since sophomore year.
“A lot of people say we need to do this and we need to do that, and then you’ll see them doing other stuff, but Spencer is someone who sticks to his words,” Quiroga said.
“He’s not only ready and willing to do that, he’s willing to convince everyone else to do it.”
When Rowe celebrates a block or a kill like a maniac, it’s because he worked for it. Rowe goes all out every single point, so it’s only logical he does the same with his celebrations.
“How he got that strong sense of self I wish I knew.” – assistant coach Andrea Becker
“He not only speaks about performing at your best, he shows you how to do it every single day.”
When Rowe is up to serve, time seems to stop.
He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and holds the ball out in front of him. He visualizes the play, relaxes his mind and says a few reassuring words in his head. For Rowe, success depends as much on a peace of mind as it does on physical ability.
“I make sure to meditate every day before games and after practices to visualize myself doing skills and succeeding at those skills,” Rowe said. “I use (meditation) so I can see the game unfold before it happens.”
Many people hear the word “meditation” and dismiss it, but Rowe believes if there’s any chance it can make him a better player, he would be foolish not to try it. He doesn’t care about being orthodox, he cares about helping his team win.
“One of the things that stands out about Spencer is that he is secure in who he is. He’s not trying to do anything that is cool to others – he’s going to be himself,” Becker said.
According to Rowe, meditating and using breathing techniques helps him focus on the moment at hand during games. One of the more memorable moments came Saturday, when he hit the winning kill to defeat BYU and put the Bruins in the conference playoffs.
The game itself kept UCLA’s championship hopes alive for at least one more week. Rowe knows his career is coming to a close, but for now, he’s still just living in the moment.
“I’m so focused on right here and right now that I don’t feel different yet,” Rowe said. “I’m sure once the season is over it’ll hit me but right now I’m just looking at my next practice and my next game.”
“He’d be a great gift to volleyball.” – coach John Speraw
“If the guys need someone to look to, they can look to me. I know how to walk that walk and I’m more than happy to take everyone along with me.”
Living in the moment doesn’t mean Rowe is devoid of future aspirations. Whenever his playing days are ultimately over, Rowe wants to take the reins of his own volleyball team, this time as a coach.
“The way Speraw leads young men is something I think I could do as well,” Rowe said. “I would love to be able to run a program and influence young guys the way he’s influenced me.”
The best person to judge whether Rowe may be the next Speraw is probably, well, Speraw himself.
“He and I have talked about coaching in the future, and I think he’d be awesome at it,” Speraw said. “He’d bring a real empathetic view of what an athlete goes through, he’s lived the athletic experience and would be a great role model for other student-athletes.”
Even though the win was monumental, Rowe didn’t celebrate his final kill against BYU Saturday with his typical eruption of energy. Instead, he triumphantly looked to the raging crowd and stood still, arms outstretched and defiant.
It was the look of someone who knew he wasn’t going to let his college career end that night. Rowe’s had quite a run at UCLA, and it’s still not over. Not yet. There’s still at least one more match to go – at least one more match to go all out.