By Mike Miazga
The success of those in the athletic arena usually can be traced back to a root cause. In the case of the Newport Beach, Calif.-based Balboa Bay Volleyball Club, sustained high-level success over a four-plus-decade period boils down to one main factor. Teaching. Yes, Balboa Bay, originally started by Charlie Brande (former men’s and women’s coach at UC Irvine, the current club co-director and junior high program director, and current director of the Orange County Volleyball Club) in 1975, has won 32 national titles and 72 total junior national medals, but none of that largess would be possible, club co-director and high school program director Travis Turner says, without those who provide the instruction to the 250-some players who call the club home each season. “Obviously Orange County is a volleyball-friendly area,” says Turner, also the head men’s coach at alma mater Orange Coast College. “But with us a lot of our coaches are doing this year-round whether it’s Steve Conti (Corona del Mar High School boys’ coach) or Dan Glenn (girls’ coach and assistant boys’ coach at Newport Harbor). Kids are getting good instruction from top-level coaches and the coaching in the club is consistent.” That consistency includes both the coaches themselves and what they teach. “One of the things from Charlie that is the backbone of this thing is his practice foundation,” Turner says. “That’s still part our foundation. Every coach takes great pride in teaching the fundamentals of the game. With our 13s through 16s they are seeing the same practice teachings and when it gets to 17s and 18s we let our coaches change the structure so they can start getting these kids ready for college.” Balboa Bay, which operates mainly out of the two Newport Beach high schools (CdM and Harbor), also has been blessed to have a coaching roster that remains, for the most part, consistent year after year. Turner, longtime 16s coach Rich Polk and former longtime Balboa Bay coach Trent Jackson, played together at Orange Coast. Turner, who started coaching at Balboa when he was a teenager in 1989, has coached the 18s in the past. Polk, who has coached at the 16s level for about two decades at Balboa Bay, is believed to have eight junior national gold medals to his credit, but he doesn’t keep track, except that, “I have too many silver medals.”
Longtime area high school coach Rocky Ciarelli, whose son, Tony, was the 2012 AVCA men’s college player of the year at USC, coaches the 18s team. In recent times, the club has benefitted from the likes of college and U.S. men’s national team coaches John Speraw (current UCLA men’s coach), Alan Knipe (current Long Beach State men’s coach) and Andy Read (Long Beach State men’s assistant coach and former interim head coach while Knipe was coaching the U.S. men’s national team and the current Balboa Bay 17s coach) being part of the coaching staff. “The core guys have been with us a long time,” Polk says. “It’s all about continuity. The age-group leaders have done this a long time. We’re surrounded by a lot of good coaches.” Polk adds another secret weapon in the Balboa Bay arsenal is the fact a good number of coaches in the club also are scholastic teachers during the day. Polk is an American government teacher at Tesoro High School in Rancho Santa Margarita and is the school’s boys’ and girls’ coach. “We look at not just the volleyball side, but we are developing responsible young men,” Polk says. “It’s a powerful role we have as teachers. When you combine the teaching part of it with the volleyball part, it’s something a lot of other clubs don’t have. As a teacher, I look at the kids I coach like I’m a parent to them as well. We focus on things such as responsibility and doing things the right way.” Turner tries to downplay the club’s long-term success.
“We try to not spend a lot of time reflecting. We’re more focused on grinding it out and getting ready for the next season,” he says. “The best thing about this club is people here are doing it for the right reasons. In men’s volleyball there aren’t a lot of scholarships. There isn’t a bunch of money at the end of the tunnel. Our coaches are teachers. I believe in what we do and we’ve had thousands of kids come through here. It’s more than volleyball. We are here to teach them to be men.” Polk loves seeing his former players remain involved in the sport. “The best thing for me is the friendships with the other coaches here and with the players,” he says. “I remain friends with the kids who have gone through the program. Pat Eaton (who also coaches in the club) was on my first national championship team and now coaches with me at Tesoro. The volleyball community is a tight-knit group where you build relationships.” Ciarelli is in his second stint with the club and has seen things from both a coach and parent perspective (Tony Ciarelli is a Balboa Bay alum). “So many coaches have been here for so long,” he says. “It’s a stable environment that teaches good fundamentals. There is a consistency to what is being taught. It’s the same philosophy taught by high-level coaches. It’s a well-run program.” Ciarelli’s son had the opportunity to play for both Speraw and Knipe at Balboa.
“His 17s year he gets John Speraw who probably is the best coach in the United States and then he gets Alan Knipe, who is right there with him,” he says. “Tony got to be coached by two of the top coaches around. My son learned a lot. Travis has gone out and got some of the best coaches you could get in the country.”
The players’ perspective
Cole Pender, who plays at Newport Harbor for Ciarelli (who also enjoyed successful coaching stints at Huntington Beach and Edison high schools), heard plenty about Balboa Bay growing up.
“They have a great tradition here,” he says.
“So many great players have gone through the club. It made me want to come here. We have great coaches. Travis is great. When Travis says something you definitely listen. Every time I come to practice I meet a great person.” Pender, who already has two gold medals to his credit at Balboa Bay, notes he was struggling with his hitting when he got to the club. “They’ve helped me improve my game,” he says. “If you are struggling with something, they go step-by-step with you. Every practice, every match, every tournament and every year I’ve been here I have improved. I love the coaching part of it. They make you play your best at the end of the year.” Michael Chang, who plays at Beckman High School in Irvine, is in his fourth season at Balboa Bay. Chang, a member of the 18s team and headed to USC next year, tells the story of a friend of his who switched clubs and joined Balboa Bay. “His passing and defense were struggling,” Chang says. “This year his defense is amazing. Balboa Bay teaches passing and defense well. They focus on the fundamentals. They have the ability to train athletes to become great blockers, great passers and great hitters.”
Jake Arnitz, a former high school standout at Anaheim-based Esperanza High School who just wrapped up his sophomore season at UCLA, is thankful for the help the club gave him in terms of finding the right college to play and study at. “Travis is very good with helping with the recruiting process,” he says. “They know a lot of the college coaches. They get your name out. Balboa Bay is known for having a lot of talent. There always are college coaches watching at tournaments. When you play for Balboa Bay, people know you and coaches know you. At these bigger tournaments, it’s tough for college coaches to watch everybody. If you are on Balboa Bay, they already know they need to go to that court and watch. They keep pushing you to move on to the next level and they prepare you for how the next level is.” Ciarelli says thanks to the hard work that has been put in over the years by the players and coaches in the club, the words Balboa Bay have a distinct cache in volleyball circles. “It’s a program that always has been successful,” he says. “There is a tradition here. Balboa Bay is a brand and it’s the top brand.”
Balboa Bay by the numbers
Year founded: 1975 (by Charlie Brande) Number of players in the club: Between 200-250 depending on year Number of coaches in the club: About 50 Number of teams: An average of 20-25 boys’ teams a year from 12s to 18s. Number of players gone onto college: Since 2006, Balboa Bay has sent more than 130 players to the next level with 12 earning All-American status and 18 winning collegiate national titles. Since 2006, 110 Balboa Bay players have gone on to play at the Division I-II level. Number of club national titles: 32 national championships and 72 total medals. Notable alumni of the club: Steve Timmons (two-time Olympic gold medal winner), Matt Fuerbringer (Stanford All-American; AVP star), Kevin Hansen (Olympic setter), Brian Thornton (Olympic setter), Brad Keenan (2002 national college player of the year, Pepperdine Hall of Fame), Cody Caldwell (four junior national championship Open titles, three-time junior national MVP, two-time NCAA champion), Jon Winder (national champion setter at Pepperdine, 2007 AVCA player of the year and current women’s assistant at Washington). Fast Fact 1: In 2008 and 2009, three Balboa Bay teams won Open titles in the same year. In 2008, the 15, 16 and 18s teams won gold, while in 2009 the 15, 16 and 17s teams won titles. Fast Fact 2: Around the 2005 timeframe club co-director Travis Turner said the club had sixteen 16 and under teams due to such high interest.