A gold medalist at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea and one of the most decorated collegiate and beach volleyball players of all time, Ricci Luyties became just the fourth UC San Diego Women's Volleyball Coach in school history when he replaced Tom Black last spring. The Pacific Palisades native, UCLA graduate and most recently, head coach at Southern Mississippi is currently putting his first Triton team through its pre-season paces. With less than two weeks until his squad plays its season opener, Luyties took time to share his thoughts about his new position, his new team and the game of volleyball.
Q: You were hired at UC San Diego after a six-year head coaching stint at Southern Mississippi. What was appealing about the UCSD position that motivated you to move from a Division I to a Division II program?
LUYTIES: UCSD has strong support for its volleyball teams, a great team already developed by the previous staff, and everything that I need to run a successful program... plus it was Hattiesburg or San Diego...
Q: How smooth has the transition been for you? What differences have you found between Southern Mississippi and UC San Diego?
LUYTIES: The transition has been easy because the players have been receptive to everything I've done. Losing a coach that they have had success with can be difficult, but they have been open-minded. Comparing USM and UCSD is like comparing apples and oranges. They're both great but for totally different reasons.
Q: What has been your initial evaluation of the roster you have inherited at UCSD?
LUYTIES: With two All-American players graduated we have some big shoes to fill. I think the players who have been on the bench are ready for their chance. Now they have to prove themselves. The team is talented and works hard. I think Coach Black did a great job recruiting and instilling the work ethic that is needed to win.
Q: What differences, if any, can fans expect to see in the playing styles of your 2010 team and the teams fielded by Tom Black?
LUYTIES: I didn't get a chance to see the team play last year but I know that I want them to be respected as a hard-working team that will never give up. We will run a fast tempo offense and if I can have my way, we will block a lot of balls!
Q: You've played volleyball and had success at many different levels. Who were the coaches that you most enjoyed playing for and who have been some of the coaches who have influenced you the most? Which would you want to have on the bench with a championship on the line?
LUYTIES: I've have been lucky enough to play for some of the best coaches in volleyball. Al Scates, Marv Dunphy and Doug Beal have probably had the most influence on my volleyball career. As far as coaching goes, I've tried to take something from all of them and add as much John Wooden in there as I can. If I had to pick one with the championship on the line, it would have to be Scates. Maybe a little of the new wizard of Westwood's magic could rub off on me.
Q: What do you consider the highlight of your playing career? What was the toughest time for you as a player?
LUYTIES: Probably the highlight and toughest time both came on the national team. Sitting on the bench more than I ever had was hard to take but starting the first three matches of the Olympics was fantastic.
Q: What is the biggest difference between Ricci Luyties the player and Ricci Luyties the coach?
LUYTIES: I still enjoy all the same things about volleyball as a coach that I did as a player; the competition, playing together as a team and the camaraderie with teammates. Now I have to control my emotions more on the bench.
Q: How does your own playing experience help you as a coach? What is your favorite aspect of coaching?
LUYTIES: I regularly use my playing experiences and refer to past teammate's strengths and weaknesses to help current players. There's nothing better in coaching than seeing a player improve and gain confidence.
Q: You were a star in both the indoor and beach game. Which did you prefer and how do you think they affect each other?
LUYTIES: I really enjoy both. I love the speed of the indoor game and the challenges of more players working together as a unit. On the other hand, there's nothing like the atmosphere of beach volleyball. You get to compete at the beach and jump in the ocean afterwards. It's also much easier on the body to jump two hundred times a day in the sand.
Q: When you're recruiting, what are the key characteristics you'll be looking for in a future UCSD volleyball player?
LUYTIES: You always want size and athleticism but I have found that recruiting character goes a long way. I also seem to be drawn to players that are versatile. That may come from my beach influence.
Q: What do you think will be the strengths of this year's Triton team?
LUYTIES: I think the players are hungry after their late season loss last season and anxious for another chance to prove themselves. We have a team with good ball control, court sense and we have many good leaders.
Q: You've played alongside and against some of the greatest volleyball players of all time? Who do you consider the best and who do you think was the most underrated?
LUYTIES: Of course Karch (Kiraly) was the best I played with both indoors and on the beach, but the most underrated player may have been Mike Dodd. For all his success and victories, he was rarely given the credit in his victories. He never cared about that and always made his teammates better.
Q: You and your wife, Lorrie, have two daughters. Is volleyball the sport of choice in your family?
LUYTIES: I actually met my wife at a beach volleyball tournament. She had legs that caught my eye. Once I tasted her homemade chocolate chip cookies, I was hooked. My two daughters keep me young and laughing all the time. The oldest, Chloe (12) thinks she will be a future winner of "So You Think You Can Dance". We now enjoy family beach volleyball games. Lia, my eight-year-old, and I win every game.
Q: Outside of volleyball and coaching, what are some of your interests?
LUYTIES: My daughters, Chloe and Lia, are my main interest right now. I try to spend every spare chance I get to be with them. Outside of that I like to surf, ride my bike and draw sometimes.
Q: In three years, what do you hope you'll have accomplished as head coach of the UCSD women's volleyball team?
LUYTIES: I want to keep this team at an elite level year after year. We are striving to win a conference championship and will be doing our best get to that level. I hope in three years I'm satisfied with myself knowing that I've done the best job possible with the Triton volleyball program.
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