Star Player Turns Tournament Promoter

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When the Association of Volleyball Professionals suspended operations in August due to financial hardship, UC Irvine’s second annual International Volleyball Tournament became the only pro volleyball venue in town, or the country for that matter.

To make sure there is a third edition of this unique event, which pits the Anteaters against professionals from Korea, Argentina, China and Brazil, a former Laguna Beach High volleyball player and current UCI freshman recruit Travis Woloson has turned pitchman in an all-out effort to fill the stands. “It’s the only chance to see professional volleyball in America,” he said.

For the tournament to continue, the event must at least break even, said UCI head Coach John Speraw. “No question it will be a big challenge for us and wonderful volleyball for everyone else to come watch,” he said.

The former Breaker team captain has taken the lead role of pitchman, trying to generate interest in this one-of-a-kind tournament that got underway Tuesday, Oct. 5. It concludes Sunday, Oct. 10, with a grass court doubles tournament that is open to local high school players and features prizes donated by Laguna resident Bob McKnight, chief executive of Quicksilver and father of Woloson’s former teammate, Robbie.

Many countries have their own pro volleyball leagues, but it’s rare for teams from different leagues to compete against each other. It’s even more rare for professionals from other countries to play in the United States. “They’re pretty excited about both,” said Speraw.

For the past few months, Woloson and his freshman teammates have been canvassing the local communities. They lent their assistance to fellow incoming freshmen on campus move-in day, using the opportunity to sell raffle tickets and promote the tournament.

Woloson helped set up a booth at the Irvine Global Village Festival last weekend, where he and his teammates held a volleyball clinic of sorts, demonstrating the game to young passers-by. And Woloson has also taken to the sand and hardwood, spreading the word and selling tickets to the local beach volleyball set as well as to surrounding Orange County high school programs.

“He’s not shy,” said Speraw, who devised the tournament in 2008 after his players returned from competing in Argentina. NCAA rules restrict teams from playing overseas to once in four years. If his players couldn’t travel to play the best in the world, Speraw decided to invite them here.

As Woloson’s coach last year at Balboa Bay Volleyball Club, Speraw liked the high school senior’s versatility and court vision, and thought he would make a good Anteater. But what really impressed the coach was Woloson’s solid character and work ethic, two things Speraw demands from a UCI recruit.

“I’m proud of every guy that’s in this program, not just for their volleyball skill, but for who they are as people,” he said. “I just knew, because I’ve gotten to know him very well, that Travis fit that very well for us.”

Woloson was named CIF division II player of the year last season after leading Laguna to the CIF championship and the second of back-to-back state titles. But UCI’s top division program is loaded with former high school stars, and Woloson found he had work to do to compete at this new level. “It’s definitely a whole other world,” he said.

To maximize the freshman’s chances of attaining his goal, Speraw convinced Woloson to sit out the upcoming season. By red-shirting, as it’s called, Woloson will be able to develop his game in practice without losing a season of eligibility. With hard work, there is a good chance he will crack the starting lineup by his senior year.

Resigned to not playing this season, he nevertheless is still sweating over his passion for the court, but this time to pack the house.

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