Ultimate Volleyball Club Boys’ Director Joe Hovanes has been named USA Volleyball’s Outstanding Male Coach. He is the first Ultimate coach to be honored with such a prestigious award. The award is even more meaningful to Joe and the club because his entire coaching career has been with Ultimate, dating back to his college days in 2003. Joe’s reaction to his award follows below.
Q: What does this award mean to you and the club?
Joe: It was very cool to be selected for this national award. It feels good knowing that I have spent so much time developing as a coach and have been successful at that. I hope to keep that going—it motivates me. This award also affirms all the hard work that the players and coaches at Ultimate have put in. It really is an award for all of us.
Q: You have helped 136 players reach their dreams of playing collegiate volleyball, have coached many All-Americans, and have been instrumental in the advancement of four players to the professional level. What does it take to get athletes to that level?
Joe: Players have to first have a good attitude and the desire to keep getting better. They need to be super competitive and to hate losing. It takes a lot of discipline and a willingness to do what coaches ask of them. Players must believe in their coaches and in what we’re trying to get done for the sake of the team. Great players are able to accept their role on the team; for example, I coached one of our 16’s teams that was undersized and had a first-time setter. They followed a team that had just placed 3rd at Nationals and wondered if they would be as good as their predecessors. They didn’t have the physical size and experience of the team they followed, but they had great leadership and did all that was asked of them throughout the season. That team finished 2nd in the nation, surprising the competition each step of the way.
Our four Ultimate alums that play professionally overseas– Bobby Walsh, Scott Fifer, Matt Pollack, and Eric Daliege–are testaments to the dedication and great work ethic needed to reach that level.
Q: Have any of your former players followed you into coaching?
Joe: Right now 15 of my players are coaching. There are several who coach here at Ultimate, as well as Kyle Exline, who coaches both men’s and women’s teams at North Central College; Connor Wexter, who coaches with Loyola’s men’s program; and Kyle Klaver, who is the head coach at Providence High School.
Q: What’s it like to see them in action, perhaps even against you?
Joe: I love it! At Ultimate we keep in touch with our former players, so when I see them coaching, we have a good rapport and working environment. We respect each other.
Q: You are the winningest coach in Ultimate VBC history. Tell us about some of your most exciting successes.
Joe: Every year we go to qualifiers and are always successful; my teams have had 15 first-place finishes at national bid tournaments. Someone is always doing real well, so it’s really fun. And trying to live up to those accomplishments is motivating. We’ve also had nine top-ten finishes at national championships, placing 2nd twice at USAV Nationals. Those were all exciting in their own right. At the Nationals in Austin, we were the underdog in every game but kept beating teams. It was the best feeling to win. We had players in unlikely positions and were small sized, but that team had great heart. Another highlight was winning the SCVA Junior Boys Classic tournament. We struggled on day one, but then just couldn’t lose. We beat every top California team and stunned people. It was amazing.
Q: When did you get involved in volleyball?
Joe: I didn’t start playing until my freshman year at Oak Lawn High School. I was cut in middle school. During high school I played middle, but moved to the outside hitter position at Trinity College.
Q: How did you get into coaching? Did you have any mentors?
Joe: I started as camp staff for Ultimate when I was a college player and then segued into coaching a team. Erin Lorenz has always been a great mentor to me since my first week as a coach, and she has always been very supportive over the years.
Q: To what do you attribute your success in coaching?
Joe: I love it! I love coaching as much as the kids love playing. And, of course, I am always trying to get better.