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Al Scates: 50 Years of Bruin Volleyball


By Wendy Soderburg '82, Photos by Amanda Marsalis

Published Apr 1, 2012 8:00 AM


The veterans: (back row, l-r) Jerry Hyde '63, M.S. '67, Brian Rofer '82, Denny Cline '77, Zajec, Greg Giovanazzi '81, Tom Stillwell '98, J.T. Wenger '04, Paul Nihipali Jr. '97; (front row) Peter Ashley '77, Associate Athletic Director Michael Sondheimer '77, David Brown '79, Scates, Smith, Court Young '00.

Lineage and Legacy


John Zajec '72

Sue and Al Scates celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary in January, a momentous event that stirred lots of memories. "Our home life was like any other married couple's—raising three children (Tracy, 49; David, 44; and Leslie, 39) and tending to their needs was a full-time job for me," Sue says. "We hope to travel after he retires. It will be fun to see him relax and not concentrate on the next practice or match.

"As for dedicating his life to the sport he loves at UCLA, I can only say that I am proud of his accomplishments and of the endearing commentaries about his career. The time flew by, and all his former players have a place in our hearts."

Two of those former players are current First Assistant Coach Brian Rofer '82 and new Volunteer Assistant Coach Sinjin Smith. This marks Rofer's 22nd year working alongside Scates—highly unusual, given that most first assistant coaches eventually leave to take head coaching jobs elsewhere. "I've been extremely fortunate to have spent my career as a player and as a coach alongside one of the greatest coaches in sport, and the single greatest collegiate volleyball coach of our time," Rofer says.

Over the years, in fact, Scates has hired dozens of former players to be his assistant coaches, and many have gone on to their own coaching success. These include Reed Sunahara '89, Dave Nichols '79, Ricci Luyties '85, Fred Sturm, John Speraw '95, Jeff Nygaard '95, J.T. Wenger '04 and Mike Sealy '96, the current coach of the 2011 NCAA champion UCLA women's team.

Andy Banachowski '68 was a two-time All-American under Scates, winning USVBA national championships in 1965 and 1967 and serving as Scates' assistant coach from 1972 to '77 while achieving his own impressive success as head coach of the UCLA women's volleyball team from 1965 to 2009.

As a young coach, Scates "was energetic and full of fun," Banachowski recalls. "He was still playing himself and enjoyed challenging the players. He taught by example and brought out the competitiveness in everyone."


Sinjin Smith '87

Karch Kiraly, whose teams went 123-5 in the four years he played under Scates, is currently assistant coach for the U.S. women's volleyball team. Having grown up a UC Santa Barbara fan, the 13-year-old Kiraly watched as the Bruins defeated his beloved Gauchos in the national championship game two years in a row (1974 and 1975). After that, he knew where he was headed.

"We had our hearts broken a little bit by the Bruins, by Al and by a core of players who were more fiercely competitive than probably anyone I had ever come across," Kiraly says. "It was stunning to watch these guys, who literally looked like they hated to lose more than any athletes I'd ever seen before."

Denny Cline played three seasons for Scates and was his assistant coach from 1977 to '80 and 1982 to '84. He says it took a stint with the U.S. national team in 1976 for him to realize just how far ahead of the curve his former coach was.

"We went to this pre-Olympic tournament in Moscow with the best teams in the world, and we were clearly outclassed," says Cline, now an attorney in Santa Monica. "But I realized that I knew more about volleyball than did the U.S. coaches. It was like, 'Oh my God, I know more than these guys do because I just spent three years with Coach Scates!' I don't mean it as a slap to those guys, because they were good guys. But Coach Scates was just ahead of everybody at that point."

At matches, Scates is "the absolute master of strategy and coaching during a match," says Greg Giovanazzi '81, another former player who coached both men's and women's volleyball at UCLA after graduating. "He just makes great adjustments. And he's so incredibly positive. I never heard him raise his voice."

But Scates' influence extends beyond his volleyball family. UCLA Men's Water Polo Head Coach Adam Wright '01 says that his daily chats with Scates were a huge help to him as a young coach.

"My first year [2009], we made the NCAA finals and ended up losing," Wright remembers. "So my door was shut for the next three or four days. I'm in there, just working and reviewing the season. And one day, I get a knock on my door. Al knew I was inside, and he said, 'Adam, you can come out. This is nothing to be ashamed of. You took your team all the way to the final game for a chance to win.' That meant a lot, coming from somebody who's done the things he's done."