The United States had a `Dream Team' before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
But not of basketball players. They played indoor volleyball, and dominated the sport in the 1980s, winning two world titles and two Olympic gold medals.
They were also the heroes and role models for Orlin Jespersen, then a high schooler in Spokane, Wash.
"I saw the 1988 Olympics and watched Karch [Kiraly] and Steve Timmins and all those guys playing," Jespersen said. "That's when I really got the bug for it, even though there wasn't much for boy's volleyball in Spokane."
Jespersen grew up with soccer, though. His father a civil service engineer for the U.S. Armed Forces, Jespersen spent eight of his early years in Europe, where soccer is easily the most popular sport.
Jespersen didn't pick up volleyball until the summer between his junior and senior year in high school.
"I found out about a club team," Jespersen said. "They were doing a summer camp, so I went to that and got a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals."
Jespersen realized that there weren't many opportunities for boys' volleyball, and took it upon himself to make some.
"A project I had in my AP English class was on `revolutions'," Jespersen said. "We were supposed to find a problem that we wanted to change or solve, and mine was instituting boys' volleyball in the high schools around the area."
The idea didn't go through with the state's high school sports association, and neither did his dealings with the club team. But after getting to Western Washington University in 1992, the sport became an integral part of his life, as the environmental science major directed the men's volleyball club team from 1992-1996.
"Through running the club, I met the head coach of the women's team," Jespersen said. "My senior season, I was a student assistant for them. My original intention was just to learn the game enough, go back to Spokane, start a boys' program and get more guys involved."
The next year, however, the head coach left and the school promoted the assistant coach. The new coach asked Jespersen to stay on, and he agreed.
At the same time, Jespersen graduated and worked as an environmental consultant in Seattle. But soon he realized he had to pick one.
"My last year as a consultant, I got to the point where I was thinking more about practice plans than my environmental projects," Jespersen said.
That same year, Jespersen met Penn head coach Kerry Major, then at Alaska-Anchorage as a coach in the same conference. He found out that she would be leaving for Penn.
Jespersen also found out that she needed an assistant. After an interview, he got the job offer and gladly agreed to go east after two years as the assistant coach at Western Washington.
"It was a little bit of a surprise at first," said Jespersen, who misses the huge mountain peaks of the West. "But I saw it as an opportunity to come out East, work at a good school and try coaching out full-time, because I knew that it was something that I really enjoyed."
Major feels that Jespersen's personality comes across in coaching.
"He's very patient about looking at a situation, trying to see another angle and not getting emotional or frustrated about it," Major said. "He's very calm, cool and collected during events where he has to be the decision-maker."
Jespersen will be taking on some new responsibility this year, as he will be the head coach of the new junior varsity volleyball team.
"I think the JV is definitely a good opportunity for me to take a team on my own but still under the Penn volleyball program," Jespersen said. "It gives me some more opportunity to refine my own coaching style."
The avid outdoorsman and golfer is not, however, looking to take over the helm of a collegiate program just yet.
"If anything, I would probably stay as an assistant for at least another two years," Jespersen said. "That will have given me a good six to eight years of assistant coaching and a good grasp of what I'm getting into and how I'm going to handle my program."Comments powered by Disqus
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