34 year-old Kevin Ring has been associated with UC San Diego Volleyball for more than a dozen years. As a player, manager and assistant coach for both the men and women, he has played a key role in the success of the sport at UCSD. In the spring of 2005, after seven years as head coach of the Triton men, Ron Larsen resigned to become the Assistant Coach of the U.S. National Team. Shortly thereafter, Ring was selected to replace the 2004 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Coach of the Year. It is Ring’s first head coaching assignment and as the Sheldon, OR native prepares for his club’s 2006 opener, Jan. 11 vs. Long Beach State, he took time to talk about his career and the future of the UCSD men’s program.
Q-What do you hope will be the defining characteristics of a Kevin Ring-coached team?
RING-From a fans’ or opponents’ standpoint, I expect that they’ll see our guys as a team that comes in, works hard and is ready to play, night-in and night-out. We’ll be well-prepared and never quit regardless of the circumstance.
From the players’ standpoint, I hope it’s a team that will feel it’s been coached at a level that will allow them to succeed on the court. What we do on a daily basis should have carryover so that the team feels it is prepared and can compete every night.
Q-You’ve had the opportunity to work with and be around a number of top flight volleyball coaches. Who has had influence on you and what have you drawn from them?
RING-Obviously, I coached most recently with Ron Larsen and from a technical perspective, I’ve learned more from him than anyone else. A lot of the drills we run and the method for teaching the skills come in large part from his philosophy.
I worked under Duncan McFarland with the UCSD women and really respected him. He’s someone who I always felt “knew” his team—knew what individual players could do in certain situations and had a good grasp of what the team as a whole was capable of.
Of course, being around the national team gave me access to some excellent coaches but that was more observing than coaching. The biggest thing I drew from that time was seeing how hard the team trained day-in and day-out, understanding what it took to win.
Q-How do you think your coaching style will differ from your predecessor, Ron Larsen?
RING-Most fans won’t see much different. From a player standpoint, I’ve tried to spend time one-on-one to be sure they know their roles and probably will have a little more ongoing communication with them. Some of that is my personality, but that’s probably a natural thing with most new head coaches.
Q-What has been the most unexpected thing you’ve encountered since moving from assistant coach to head coach?
RING-As an assistant, I did the majority of the recruiting—that was my big task outside of the gym. Now, I handle recruiting plus everything else including conditioning, ordering equipment, travel and fund-raising. None of that has really been a surprise but more just having the responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve seen what goes on—now I’m doing it.
Q-What part of your job to you enjoy most?
RING-Definitely being in the gym with the players. I like practice and am very excited to see what the season brings. Our guys have worked hard so far and it will be fun gauging where we are.
I think for the most part we have guys who are really excited about playing volleyball. Their lives are busy with school, exams and finals but they enjoy playing and it’s a good group of guys to work with. We have good chemistry.
Q-What do you look for when recruiting a student-athlete for the UCSD men’s volleyball team?
RING-I’m definitely looking for players I feel can play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF). I’m not just looking for someone who couldn’t play at another school.
Certainly academics play a big part. From a personal standpoint, the biggest things are athleticism and competitiveness. I feel we can teach the skills but they need to be athletic and have the desire to compete.
Q-When and how did you begin your association with volleyball?
RING-There was no boys volleyball in Oregon where I grew up. I played golf in high school and prior to my senior year, I was looking for a summer golf camp to attend. I couldn’t find one but saw an ad for a volleyball camp at our school and contacted the coach.
He thought I was a dad signing up his daughter and when I got to the camp, there were 30 girls and I was the only guy. I liked the camp and signed up for a second one that same summer where there were 100 girls and me.
I found that I enjoyed the sport, liked the coach (who was the coach at my high school) and ended up helping him with the girls team during the school year.
Q-And it’s been volleyball ever since?
RING-Pretty much. I came to UCSD because it was strong in the sciences and I was going to be a chemistry/pre-med major but part of the reason was also that there was a Division III volleyball program and I felt there was an opportunity for me to play. Our high school coach, Brock Olson, encouraged me to try it and I contacted Digger Graybill who was the men’s coach at the time.
At tryouts as a freshman, I got cut the first day and rightfully so. I just wasn’t playing at the necessary level. Digger asked if anyone who had been cut wanted to stick around and help the team. One of the things Coach Olson had always stressed was “that if you wanted to get better, you needed to be around people who are better than you,” so I thought the chance to stick around would be beneficial. I worked the whole year working out in practice and was like the team manager. At the end of the year, I got to play in the final match.
My sophomore year, I was cut the last day of tryouts but decided to stay around and help out again. That led to a job with the U.S. Men’s National Team which was headquartered in San Diego at the time. The summer after my sophomore year, I worked with the national team a couple of days a week and when their manager left, I was offered a job which I accepted. I took two years off of school and worked with the team through the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where it won a bronze medal.
I came back to UCSD in the fall of 1993 older, stronger and having watched the best volleyball in the world close-up. I made the team and played three years.
Q-You were a chemistry major and later taught chemistry as a TA at UCSD and an adjunct professor at University of San Diego. Any similarities between chemistry and volleyball?
RING-No—at least not the subjects. But as far as teaching, “yes.” There is a lot of carryover from one to the other.
In both, teaching and coaching, you’re essentially trying to get people to learn something new or try something different that will eventually become routine. In chemistry, it might be working out a problem, on the court it might be passing a volleyball. It’s interesting to note that over the years at UCSD there have been a lot of “chemistry-volleyball” guys.
Q-Who is the best volleyball player you’ve ever seen?
RING-Karch Kiraly was already gone when I got to the national team, but during my time, Eric Sato was certainly one of the best. Seeing him in the gym on a daily basis, he was just a phenomenal player. He would be digging ball after ball and the other players would be left wondering how he did it.
As a setter, Jeff Stork was one of the best in the world at his position and was also extremely competitive.
Q-In practice, what is the No. 1 focus of your team?
RING-This past fall we worked a ton on serving, passing and blocking. The game has gotten to a point where you have to be able to serve at a very high level. I have told the team that our objective is to serve tough but don’t miss. That’s not easy to do.
For us to be successful, we also have to pass at a high level so that we’re “in system” for our setter, Brooks Dierdorff, and we can run our offensive the way we want.
As far as blocking, we’re one of the smaller teams in the MPSF but we have to be able to slow down opposing offenses. We’re not necessarily going to be stuff blocking other teams but if we can touch a lot of balls and control block, it will really help our defense.
I believe we can be as good defensively as any team in the league which is a big part of the transition game. Both of those start with blocking.
Q-What do you appreciate most from your time as a volleyball player at UCSD?
RING-Primarily the friendships. My best friends are the guys I played volleyball with, not the guys I sat next to in chemistry class. When I look back at people like Tom Black, Tyson Kerr, Dan Thomassen, Matt Minehan and others, I realize we had a lot of real quality guys come through the program.
Q-On an ongoing basis, what is a reasonable goal for UCSD in the MPSF?
RING-Even though we haven’t done it in the past, I think every year our objective should be making the MPSF playoffs.
I go into every match believing we can win, so that is a natural extension. I’m not going to get into the business of trying to predict who we can beat or go for “x” number of wins, but playoffs in any sport—getting to the post-season—should be a goal. For us, it means we have to finish ahead of four other teams.
Q-What can we expect from the 2006 Tritons?
RING-Our veterans, including Brooks (Dierdorff), Russ Hardy, Jon Daze and Chris Sayers, are guys who have worked extremely hard and just enjoy playing. I think we’ll have a lot of fun, be loose and battle a lot of teams.
As far as our style, volleyball is a game of constant transition. I’m not sure we’ll stand out in any one area but I think we’ll be a pretty good ball control team and run a fast offense. We need to have a strong transition game to be successful.
Q-What do you enjoy away from the volleyball court?
RING-I love fly fishing although being in San Diego I don’t get to do it as much as I’d like. I’m learning to tie my own flies.
I also enjoy surfing and even though I’m around volleyball all the time, I rarely play. I’d like to play beach volleyball more than I do now.
Q-What are a few things you would like to accomplish in your life?
RING-Well, I’d like to get married and have a family. I’d also like to win a national championship.