Drive Nation, in its fourth year offering club volleyball, has taken a massive step up in competition this season. The addition of “Ping,” as he is known, continues Drive Nation’s quest to be “best in class” in the Dallas Metroplex, a title TAV has held for more than a decade.
Ping’s tenure at TAV will conclude at USA Volleyball’s Girls Junior National Championships in Las Vegas in June. Ping’s TAV 17 Black team has won two consecutive national qualifiers and is currently ranked No. 1 nationally in its age group by the Advanced Event Systems computerized ranking program.
Ping, 63, was a 1984 Chinese Olympian. He started his club coaching career stateside in 2000 at Sports Performance, where he won one 16 Open national championship and several AAU titles. Ping joined TAV for the 2010 season, when the club was just starting to come into prominence, having won its first two Open national championships (in 14 Open and 15 Open) the year before. He helped cement TAV’s standing as one of the nation’s elite clubs.
Ping led TAV 17 Black to a national championship in his first season. The team defeated Synergy in the 17 Open championship match. Ping-coached 17 Black teams have won five additional times since then, including 2017, when current Texas standout Asjia O’Neal was a middle blocker on the team; and in 2019, the last time USAV has conducted national championship events.
After initial reports that Ping would leave TAV before Junior Nationals, TAV confirmed, with a Facebook post, that the famed coach would finish the year with his team and go after another national title for TAV. The post stated, as follows:
“Thank you Ping for your dedication and all you have done for TAV. We look forward to seeing you coach TAV Black at Junior Nationals in Vegas. We wish you best of luck at Drive Nation next season.”
TAV club director Corinne Atchison said that Ping’s decision to leave came as a surprise.
“There had been no previous discussion about that, but we understand that all coaches are at-will employees and that everybody has to make the best decisions for themselves and that’s OK,” she said.
Atchison said that TAV expects to fill the 17 Black head coaching position by the time the North Texas region conducts tryouts on July 10.
“Since news broke that the 17 Black job was open, there’s been an influx of people wanting to meet with us,” she said. “We have all the way through nationals to figure it out.”
TAV, as a club, has been undergoing transition for the past couple of years. There’s been an ownership change and the club will likely move to a new facility next season (it will have two state-of-the-art facilities the year after next). And, with 15 Black coach LJ Sariego’s announcement that he is taking time off from being a head coach after this season — he will continue to be a club director and assist in coaching — the club’s top teams at each of the 15-18s age groups will have replaced head coaches at least once in the past two years.
Despite the changes, TAV’s success on the court has continued as if nothing has happened. AES ranks every TAV top team from 13s through 17s among its top 10 nationally. And the 18s team was undefeated and No. 1 nationally before losing twice at 18s Junior Nationals in Columbus last month.
Sariego, for his part, believes that TAV will continue to thrive despite the upheaval. The coaching staff at all levels remains strong and deep, he said.
“TAV is in great shape,” he concluded. “We have some great coaches still; just younger than in the past.”
For Drive Nation, the future in volleyball is now. After a faltering start, club owner Jermaine O’Neal, a six-time NBA All-Star, pushed the right buttons in the offseason. He hired longtime TAV 16 Black coach Jason Nicholson to take over as club director, and brought on successful club coach Jacob Hanan from Lonestar VBC. Nicholson, who currently coaches 16 Red; and Hanan, who coaches 17 Red; have won three national qualifiers between them this year and have given Drive Nation the foothold, both in Dallas and on the national scene, that it lacked in its first few seasons.
The hiring of Ping solidifies Drive Nation as a force on the volleyball scene nationally.
O’Neal said that he’s been trying to get Ping on board since Drive Nation opened. His daughter, Asjia, played for Ping as a high school junior. Playing for Ping is not easy — he is “old school” and very demanding — but Asjia, the Texas sophomore middle who was a VolleyballMag.com third-team All-American this spring, had her best year under his tutelage.
“He gave my daughter the hardest version of the test,” O’Neal said. “That’s what I want for my teams.”
O’Neal said that his vision for Drive Nation in volleyball has always been to be best in class.
“You have to understand the competitor in me,” he explained. “We expect to be good at what we do; we expect to win. We will always be adding ingredients. Ping was a big part of what I felt like we needed in this organization based on what he did with my daughter. I reached out to Ping and the timing was right this year.”
O’Neal stressed that, despite now taking two prominent coaches from TAV, he harbors no ill-will towards the club his daughter played for.
“We don’t have a personal vendetta against TAV,” he said. “When you go out to be the very best and take up market share, you have to get the very best minds.
“We want to be the very best. We are one step closer with Ping.”