He is a legend in the volleyball world, internationally, collegiately and on the beach. He has won an Olympic gold medal indoors (1984), an NCAA title (1980) and a half million dollars on the sand.He is Pat Powers. And he is the new USC men's volleyball coach in 1997.
Powers was hired in June of 1996 to help resuscitate his alma mater's program. It is a program that has won 4 NCAA crowns and 6 second place trophies since scholarships were first awarded in the sport at USC in 1977, but has fallen on hard times lately (the Trojans' last trip to the NCAA Final Four was in 1991 and they've had 3 sub-.500 seasons since then, including 14-16 overall last year and 9-10 for fifth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's Pacific Division).
"The chance to return to my alma mater as head coach is something I've dreamed about," said Powers, who replaced Jim McLaughlin (he resigned after leading Troy to the 1990 NCAA title during his 7 years as coach). "As my playing career progressed, I started paying attention to the mechanics of the game. Then I had the opportunity to teach players how to hit and pass, and how to win. And, as a player, I was privy to some of the greatest coaching minds that volleyball had to offer. I plan to use that background, and the coaching opportunities I've had in recent years, to prepare the Trojans for success."
Powers, who has coached at various levels (including with European club teams, in college and in high school), says that success will come only one way: through hard work.
"We'll run harder practices than they're used to," he said. "On all the winning teams I played on and coached, practices were always harder than the matches. If our players go hard in practice, the matches take care of themselves."
Powers, the old Trojan, also said an attitude adjustment is needed. "We must instill the Trojan spirit back in these players," he said. "They must walk into the gym and expect to win. I want them to be mean and play in what I call the 'white zone.' If you've ever seen metal when it is heated up, first it turns red, then yellow and then white."
USC returns 4 starters from last season, losing only a pair of 4-year starters in swing hitter Russell Brock (he hit .335 with 460 kills, and a team-best 244 digs and 29 aces in 1996), who owns 4 USC digs records, and setter Steve Loeswick (1332 assists in 1996).
Both middle blockers are back: Eric Seiffert, a 6-6 senior who will serve as team captain in 1997 as he starts for his fourth season (he hit .327 with 237 kills and 77 blocks last spring), and 6-10 junior Szilard Kovacs of Hungary (USC's tallest player ever), who was 10th nationally (tops on USC) in hitting at .418 and also led Troy in blocks (111) in 1996 in his second season starting.
"Eric is our team's best all-around athlete," said Powers. "He's a team leader on and off the floor. Physically, Szilard is one of the most dominant middle blockers in the country. Offensively, we will run the middle more this year and both of them will benefit from that."
Also back is 6-5 senior swing hitter Chris Guigliano (.284, 488 kills, 195 digs, 18 aces in 1996 in his second season as a starter) and 6-8 sophomore opposite hitter/swing hitter Gabe Gardner, who earned Freshman All-American first team honors last year while leading USC in kills (490) and adding 23 aces, 193 digs and 61 blocks. Guigliano was 12th in the nation in kill average (5.48) in 1996, while Gardner was 11th (5.51). "Chris reminds me a lot of Karch Kiraly with his vertical jump and athletic ability," said Powers. "He has the best all-around skills on our team. Gabe is one of the most physically gifted players in the country. He is starting to develop a work ethic that will complement his skills, help him realize his potential and fit our team concept."
A number of 1996 reserves and 1997 newcomers will fill out the squad. Competing at setter will be 6-0 senior David Berney, Loeswick's backup the past 3 years who has started 10 career matches, and 6-5 first-year freshman Donald Suxho of Albania, who arrived in January.
"David provides great leadership and is a natural at it," said Powers. "He has that iron will that you look for in a setter. He has a good jump serve, too. Donald is a mature, experienced player. He has a fire in him that as a setter helps hold a team together. He's a setter who moonlights as a middle blocker. And he's a great jump server."
Five untested players will compete for Brock's swing hitter job: juniors Brooks Hoppe (he's 6-4 and has played in 6 career matches) and 6-2 Shadd Walker (he redshirted last spring), a pair of 6-4 juniors who are junior college transfers in Beau Bianchi from Irvine Valley College and Brad Callahan of Orange Coast College, and 6-5 true freshman David Grimm. Callahan and Grimm also can play opposite hitter. "Brooks has the best peripheral vision of anyone on our team," said Powers. "He also has a lot of range on his hitting. Shadd is one of the best passers on our team and he is starting to come around on the hitting end. Beau is our best passer. He makes tremendous use of his size at the net. And he's one of our better backrow players. Brad is a good all-around player and a solid athlete. He has a very strong arm. He practices hard and sets the tone for our other players. David has really come a long way since he joined our team. He is a solid passer and has a great arm swing. He just needs to improve his jump."
Omar Rawi, a 6-5 soph who appeared in 2 matches last year, and 6-7 J.C. transfer Trent Brown of Pierce College, a junior, add depth to the middle blocker spots. "Omar is one of our most improved players," said Powers. "His lateral quickness at the net is among the best on the team. He has great tenacity, is very athletic and is improving his arm swing. Trent really came around at the end of fall practice and made huge strides, especially in his hitting and backrow play. He's a naturally-good blocker."
Also back is 5-11 junior defensive specialist Bryant Edwards, who has played in 47 matches as a sparkplug in the back row. "Bryant is a great backrow player and one of the best diggers I have seen," said Powers. "He has great anticipation of where the ball is going and reacts superbly."
Powers says the 1997 Trojans will be more balanced offensively and a better blocking and siding out team on defense. "Our first priority offensively is to be a good passing team that runs the middle," he said. "I want to be less predictable than in the past and I want to run a lot of combination plays. Good passing and blocking is what gets you into May (into the NCAA Tournament)."
Powers sees success around the corner for the Trojans. "Talentwise, we are fine," he said. "If we don't have the depth, we will develop it. If we lack intensity and motivation, we will take them out to the woodshed and figure it out."