By Greg Echlin for VolleyballMag.com
Mike Talamantes is the men’s volleyball coach at Park University.
He’s also the women’s coach.
And that’s where his focus is right now, because Park is concentrating on defending its NAIA women’s national title. The Pirates (same nickname for both teams) are 17-2 and ranked No. 6 in the nation. They’ve won seven matches in a row and Friday play two matches, against Kansas Wesleyan and Wiley College in a tournament in Columbia, Missouri.
If last year repeats itself, men’s practices at Park, which is located five miles north of Kansas City in Parkville, Missouri, will be well under way while the women are in their postseason competition.
So the chances are one of Talamantes’ assistants, Park alum Rob Cordero — who played on the school’s 2014 national-championship men’s team, will be conducting men’s practices at the same time.
But even if Talamantes is not in the gym, one thing is clear: Talamantes runs the show in everything involving volleyball at Park.
“When it comes to recruiting, I like putting a team together for two to three years down the road, and I like building a progression in practices on how we’re going to do things,” said Talamantes, one of 12 head coaches on the budget-conscious NAIA level who lead their men’s and women’s volleyball teams.
Park coach Mike TalamantesTalamantes was the AVCA Coach of the Year for the first time 2012 after Park won what was then referred to by the NAIA as a national invitational tournament because fewer than 40 schools fielded men’s volleyball.
When he got his award, “I got to go up on stage and receive it and say a couple words and I look out. You see Mary Wise from Florida, you see Kevin Hambly, (the Stanford coach) who was at Illinois at the time,” Talamantes said.
“I’m stunned and the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, ‘I’ve stolen so much from all of you. I’ve watched tape on you. I’ve followed you guys on You Tube.’ Those are my idols.”
Then, in 2014, after going 40-0 on the women’s side, Talamantes was back on stage receiving the AVCA Coach of the Year award for his first women’s NAIA title. He won another men’s title in 2017 and then the women’s crown last year. Now with more than 40 teams fielding men’s squads he’s shooting to become the first coach to win a full NAIA championship in both.
Park started up a beach program last year and played its first match, which happened to be at the University of Nebraska, Talamantes won’t forget the moment he entered that school’s practice gym.
“I walk in and (Nebraska coach) John Cook opens the door,” Talamantes said.
And then he demonstrated the frozen look on his face at the sight of remembering Cook just a few feet away.
“Pretty cool. I’m not going lie,” Talamantes said before he broke out in laughter while reflecting on his giddiness.
But Cook knew who Talamantes, the ninth-year coach at Park, was. His record is 271-50 on the women’s side.
Before that three-hour drive to Nebraska for Park’s first beach match, Talamantes ran late because he wrapped up a men’s practice back in Parkville. For the beach matches, Talamantes has his fingerprints on it, but turns the beach head coaching duties over to his one of his other men’s and women’s assistants, Kaci Crabtree, a former Park libero in her second year as an assistant coach.
Beach volleyball on the NAIA level is characterized as an “emerging” sport since only 16 teams are putting teams in the sand.
“It’s really fun learning from Mike because obviously he’s done really well here,” Crabtree said. “He knows his stuff and it’s really fun to see his side of things because we’re both very defensively minded.”
The system Talamantes dictates for his women’s and men’s teams is the same.
“We put a lot on aggression,” Talamantes said. “We like to be aggressive from the baseline, we like to be aggressive from the back row. A lot of times with the women’s game, people won’t take any chances with the back row. If you watch us play, we don’t call zones. We want you to serve aggressively from the left and the right side of the court. Give us your best stuff.”
Park’s back row is solidified by Celina Monteiro, a senior from Rio de Janeiro and one of six Brazilians on the roster. Monteiro was the NAIA national tournament Defender of the Year in 2018, which is not bad for someone who originally attended college to play soccer.
“That’s kind of crazy,” said Monteiro, among five players who celebrated senior day last Saturday in a three-set win over cross-state rival Hannibal-La Grange.
“My dad (Jose Augusto) was a professional soccer player and he really wanted one of his kids to play soccer. I liked it, but it was not my thing.”
Monteiro also dabbled in volleyball during her freshman year at Missouri Valley College, an NAIA school in Marshall, Missouri. That’s where Talamantes saw her when Missouri Valley squared off against Park.
“They (the Pirates) had so many players who were tops in the nation,” said Monteiro, who then decided to join the Pirates as a transfer. This week, Monteiro was named the American Midwest Conference Defender of the Week for the second straight week and the 13th time overall.
Much of what Talamantes picked up for the foundation of his philosophies comes from his late father, Michael Sr., a volleyball coach at Cathedral High School in Los Angeles and at Alverno Heights Academy in Sierra Madre, California. They coached volleyball and basketball together at each high school.
“He was always about the kids. I’d be so frustrated about losing,” said Talamantes with a laugh. “I was younger.”
It took a few years after Michael Sr. died in 2003 for young Michael to figure that out. With his father in mind, Talamantes finally absorbed what his father meant to get across.
“As long as my kids feel like they did their best, we’re getting the best out of them and we’re setting them up to be better in the future I’m doing my job,” Talamantes said. “I give everything to him. I give him a lot of respect. He’d be having a lot of fun at Park, too, if I had him around.”
Before he took over at Park, Talamantes was the women’s coach at Occidental College in Los Angeles for three years. With his roots in southern California, where his brother and sister still live, and his success in nine years at Park, what would prevent him from returning to the West Coast where he grew up loving beach volleyball?
Early in his Park tenure, Talamantes concedes that he considered a couple coaching possibilities elsewhere.
But his wife, Jennifer, is a Missouri native and they’re raising four kids under 5. That keeps him around along with the relationships he has forged at Park.
“The one thing I value is trust,” Talamantes said. “We talk about it within our team culture. As long as we trust each other, we’ll get things done. I have the utmost faith and trust in my athletic director (Claude English). He’s had my back and he’s let me grow as a coach.”
When thinking about the difference between L.A. traffic and the Kansas City metropolitan area, Park’s most recent 45-minute road trip for a non-conference road match at Mid-America Nazarene in Olathe, Kansas, comes to mind.
“It took us about five or ten minutes to get through this traffic and I just laugh every time,” he said. “Back in L.A., you had to have a nice car, a good speaker, have something to do, have an audio book, because you were going to spend most of your day in a car.”
It puts everything into perspective for the lifestyle Talamantes now leads.
“I don’t miss the cost of gas. I don’t miss the cost of my apartment. I don’t miss traffic and I do like the time that we can put into the kids,” he said. “In California, my wife would have to work. Here, we can afford to live on one salary right now and my kids are taken care of. So, yeah, from a family standpoint and for me personally, I’m pretty happy right now.”
And the volleyball is pretty good, too.