On the Podium

     

    Over a decade before UCSD alumnus and Sri Lankan Olympian Christine Merrill made headlines for her participation in the 2012 London Olympics, UCSD volleyball coach Ricci Luyties won an Olympic gold medal in Seoul, while fellow coach Kevin Ring served as team manager to a U.S. team that took bronze.

    Of course, Luyties and Ring might not be as pretty as Merrill — dubbed the most beautiful Olympic athlete by her hometown publication, The Bakersfield Californian — but the coaches are the school’s only Olympians on staff. Although the two have converged at UCSD — Ring entering his ninth year for the UCSD men’s team and Luyties entering his fourth season for the women — the pair have taken very different paths to get here.

    Before beginning his coaching career, Luyties enjoyed an extensive and prolific playing career. In 1988, Luyties took Olympic gold as a setter on the United States men’s national volleyball team. Luyties competed as part of Team USA between 1981 and 1988, before which he won four NCAA national titles at UCLA. Luyties then played professional beach volleyball for 12 years. But it was when the beach volleyball scene became less lucrative that Luyties tried his hand on the sidelines.

    For anyone with as successful a playing career as Luyties, one might expect that his time spent on the court would supersede his time as a coach, but Luyties says he enjoys both endeavors.

    “There’s nothing that really compares to playing, and getting that moment of competition — although, I will say the coaching thing is where I still get that fix,” Luyties said. “You do get so involved in the games, and sometimes too much, so that you’re just drained emotionally by the end of the match.”

    Luyties began his coaching career in San Diego as the head men’s volleyball coach at La Jolla High School. From there, Luyties spent three seasons with the University of Colorado as an assistant coach before he became head coach at the University of Southern Mississippi. In 2009, former UCSD head coach Tom Black was offered a position at Loyola Marymount University, leaving a vacancy for Luyties.

    “I love it here,” Luyties said. “The school is great, the administration’s really supportive of volleyball, and the student athletes are phenomenal. It’s great working with them.”

    When asked how his playing experience has shaped the way he coaches, Luyties stressed the value of empathizing with his players.

    “I think that is where relating to players, and having them know that I’ve done all the things that they’re going through, gives me a little more credit when I’m trying to coach them through things,” Luyties said. “I’ve pretty much played in every type of match and seen a lot of situations, so nothing really surprises me.”

    Unlike Luyties, who began his career in Southern California and spent nine years to get back, UCSD head coach Kevin Ring never really left UCSD.

    Ring earned his undergraduate degree at UCSD, completing the bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in chemistry while also working as a volunteer assistant coach. Interestingly, Ring, who only started playing volleyball in high school, did not make the UCSD squad in his first two years at school, and instead joined as an assistant coach. Ring proved capable enough to be recommended for a position as team manager for the 1992 Olympic team that won a bronze medal in Barcelona.

    “Even though I was still so young at the time, I gained a lot just watching the best players in the world — how they trained, how they were coached,” Ring said. “It was just a tremendous experience.”

    After taking two years off to coach and travel with the Olympic team, Ring returned to school and competed on the UCSD team for his last three years of college. Upon his graduation, Ring served as an assistant coach for nine seasons — under three different coaches — and also worked as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego before he was promoted to head coach at UCSD. Ring has held the head coaching position for the past seven seasons.

    “My path, as far as beginning a playing career and a subsequent coaching career, is probably a little different than most guys,” Ring said. “A lot of guys now come in with three of four years in high school and six or seven years on a club team before they play in college. But I was fortunate here, that I was able to work as a volunteer assistant coach, and that opportunity led to a paid position.”

    In July, UCSD will renew its ties to Olympic volleyball, hosting a match pitting the No. 1-ranked U.S. women’s national volleyball team against No. 3 Japan. The team, coached by Luyties’ former teammate, Karch Kiraly, is scheduled to play July 10, with general admission tickets selling for $20 each.

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