The volleyball world was shocked Wednesday to learn of the death of 25-year-old pro beach volleyball player Eric Zaun.
Zaun, who was from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, but had moved to California to further his beach career, was found in the parking lot Tuesday at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. According to news reports Zaun died after a fall from the 29th floor in what police believe to be a suicide.
Zaun, a popular player who was well liked for his winning smiles and enthusiastic “Big Dawg!” greetings, earned VolleyballMag.com and AVP Rookie of the Year awards in 2017, as well as the NVL Breakthrough Athlete award in 2015.
“The AVP is deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Eric Zaun,” the AVP said in a statement. “Our prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends at this time. He will be deeply missed.”
Most recently Zaun played in last weekend’s AVP New York City Open where he and partner Avery Drost tied for ninth, the third time they took ninth together at an AVP tournament.
“This is a huge loss for the entire volleyball community,” USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis said. “Eric was a talented young beach player and stepped up this spring to play snow volleyball for the U.S. He will be missed.”
Zaun’s passion for volleyball was limitless, as evidenced by his “Road Dawg” mentality, criss-crossing the nation while living in his Sprinter van on his way to the next tournament.
His volleyball career began in high school at age 14, when he was an all-state selection for the Cherry Hill East High School Cougars.
His indoor skills landed him a scholarship at Limestone College in South Carolina, where he was the Conference Scholar Athlete of the year in his junior season.
It was during that time when he embraced beach volleyball and trained under Quan Nguyen at Quandomania Volleyball.
Zaun played on the NVL tour from 2013-2016, and became one of its top contenders, winning three events and earning $21,975 in 2015, his last full year.
“When I first saw Eric compete at the NVL Atlanta tournament I knew right away that he was a very special player, “ NVL CEO Albert Hannemann said. “We had a lot of conversations about what it would take for him to become a pro beach volleyball player and he told me he would do whatever it took to be the best. He was a great guy and I was very proud of his successes on the court and his dedication. He will be greatly missed.”
Zaun understood that California was where he needed to train, so he went west.
His magnetic personality and work ethic earned him both friend and partnership opportunities, so much so that he was named the VolleyballMag.com Rookie of the Year after breaking through to a third place in AVP San Francisco with Ed Ratledge.
Although Zaun’s partnership with Ratledge was short-lived, with Zaun moving to Marty Lorenz for a more youth-based team, Ratledge cherishes his time with Zaun.
“He was the most unique person I’ve ever known. He could light up any room with his smile and his laughter and attitude were infectious,” Ratledge said.
“It was a privilege to be his partner and to have him in my life, he brought out the best in me and I’ll miss him forever.”
In 2018, Zaun took third with Drost at the NORCECA Tour event in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. He competed in five FIVB World Tour events. His best finish was fifth at the one-star event in Shepparton, Australia with Adam Roberts.
This year, Zaun finished fifth with Ian Satterfield at the NORCECA event in Varadero, Cuba.
He represented the USA in FIVB snow events this year in Austria and Italy with Chase Frishman, Travis Mewhirter and Chris Vaughan. They tied for fifth in Austria and tied for ninth in Italy.
Zaun’s friends will remember his unique energy, said pro beach volleyball player Brittany Howard.
“Eric was the most outgoing, fun-loving, up-for-anything, adventurous. He was just one of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m going to miss him and his shenanigans so much,” Howard said.
“He was so nice and so positive with everyone, and that was just how he greeted people. He was so infectious, and everyone loved him, and he was just the best. He was always making people feel important, and included, and he just loved adventure.”
Information on Zaun’s visitation in New Jersey can be found here.
Read Avery Drost’s touching tribute to his friend and partner: https://volleyballmag.com/avery-drost-061419/