“I want to win the national championship.”
These are the words of Jon Stevenson, the new head coach for the Cal Poly volleyball team.
They may sound overly ambitious, but with 36 years of volleyball experience both as a hall of fame player and a successful coach, Stevenson knows that the goal is attainable.
While Stevenson may be new to Cal Poly, he brings a wealth of experience and a positive outlook on the future of volleyball, for both the Mustangs and the entire San Luis Obispo area.
“I remember back in the 80’s when Mott (Gym) used to be packed,” Stevenson said. “I want to create that environment again.”
This ambition comes from knowing what needs to get done and knowing how to achieve it. Something only experience can offer.
“I think he’s a good enough coach to do that (win national championship),” senior volleyball player Vanessa Gilliam said.
Stevenson brings years of experience to a Mustang program looking to turn things around in a positive way. He has been playing volleyball since he was 12 years old, but it was not until his second year at UC Santa Barbara that he began getting serious about it.
He fell in love with beach volleyball back in high school, but went on to play basketball at Brigham Young University in Utah. After one year, Stevenson decided to transfer to UCSB where he was a redshirt on the basketball team until he tore his ankle during his sophomore year.
It was during rehabilitation for his ankle that he began playing more volleyball and in turn discovered what he wanted to do. After being cut from the volleyball team his first year at UCSB, Stevenson kept working and was a starter by his junior year.
After finishing second in the World Championships of Beach Volleyball in the summer going into his senior year, Stevenson took the prize money and turned pro.
“It allowed me to do what I love, and make a little money,” Stevenson said.
As a professional, Stevenson played in Italy with the top international players, was ranked in the top five in pro beach volleyball for ten years, qualified for the 1996 Olympic Trials and was inducted into the Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame. In addition, he served as the Director of Tour Operations and helped increase the prize money for pro beach volleyball.
As far as coaching experience, Stevenson brings plenty as well. He began as an assistant coach at Santa Barbara City College and also coached at UCSB. In 1998, he left his position as head coach of the men’s team at UC San Diego to be the second assistant to the women’s team at University of Wyoming.
As head coach at Saint Mary’s from 2002-04, Stevenson turned a team ranked 245th in the nation into the 10th-ranked team.
So why leave such a successful program and start over?
“I wanted to take the challenge,” Stevenson said, “because Cal Poly has a lot to offer.”
So far, it looks like he is off to a good start.
The Mustangs are 7-3 this year, already surpassing last year’s record of 5-24 and show no signs of giving in despite back-to-back losses to end a seven-match winning streak.
“We want to be a tournament team, restore the Cal Poly name and win our conference,” sophomore volleyball player Kristin Jackson said.
Both Stevenson and his squad believe they have the potential and the talent to reach their goals, but they cannot do it alone.
“It’s tough to succeed without proper support,” Stevenson said. Believing that the student body coming out to games will not only help with their success, but create that winning environment again.
The team’s mantra is “our best will be good enough.” According to Jackson, “if we hold that true, anything is possible.”
The Cal Poly women’s volleyball team’s next match is tomorrow against conference rivals UCSB in Mott gym at 7 p.m.