Last December, UCI Athletic Director Mike Izzi named three-time Olympian, Paula Weishoff, as the new Women’s Volleyball head coach. Weishoff had served the past five seasons as the head coach at Concordia University, Irvine. She played collegiate volleyball at USC and also served as an assistant coach there. She has been a part of three National Championships, two as a coach and one as a player, and has participated in the 1984, 1992, and 1996 Summer Olympic Games.
New U: When did you first acquire an appreciation and interest in volleyball?
Paula Weishoff: I always said that I wouldn’t be a coach when I was a player. I always said, “I don’t know if that would interest me,” because I did camps – big camps – and it seemed like babysitting. So, when I had my first opportunity to coach, and actually work with kids, it was very different from the camps that I had been in when I was a player. That was when I fell in love with coaching. It’s a lot more than putting together a drill. It’s like a puzzle. You’re putting pieces of a puzzle together as you work with athletes, and you develop them not only on the court, but off the court with their academics. It’s a very cool profession.
New U: As a player and athlete, when did you become interested in volleyball?
Weishoff: I was a four-sport athlete in high school and it was kind of the Michael Jordan story with volleyball. They only kept me my junior varsity year because I was tall and wasn’t very good. Swimming and soccer were my two sports. In my junior and senior year I had an opportunity to play with the USA Junior team and got an international taste of the game. I got to travel a little bit and volleyball has been my favorite sport since then.
New U: Why did you enjoy playing the sport of volleyball?
Weishoff: I did volleyball, soccer, softball, track and swimming. The swimming and the track is more individual, so there isn’t a team aspect. Softball isn’t as active. It’s active, but you stand around a lot. The two sports I like the most were volleyball and soccer because you’re constantly moving and I was very active. I loved to run, as crazy as it sounds. With volleyball, you’re in every play. You’re not just standing there. You’re on a smaller court than soccer so you’re getting more touches and you’re in every play. It’s a team sport and I’m more of a team person than an individual person.
New U: What was your experience like at USC as a player? What was it like to be a part of a National Championship Title team?
Weishoff: Down to my top schools, that was my goal. I wanted to go and get the best training I could get because my goal was to try and make the Olympic team and win a National Championship. That’s why I chose USC. Being able to go in and actually start your freshman year and be able to contribute to a program and actually win it. For me, you set goals and then you go about it trying to accomplish it. I just focused on being my best everyday.
New U: You participated in three Olympic Games. Can you describe those experiences?
Weishoff: My first Olympics was in 1984 and you cannot even describe the feeling that you get when you walk in your first opening ceremony. To walk into an arena with all the other countries and the people in the stands, it’s just there are no words to describe how incredible that is. The first one was in L.A. where I grew up, which was cool. The second one was in 1992 and was in Barcelona. That was a different experience because I had played in Italy, so I knew people who had played in Italy. I knew almost all the volleyball teams and I personally knew people on each team. I knew Lindsey Davenport with tennis. To be able to walk over and take a picture with her and go over and talk to the basketball team was a different experience all in itself. In 1996, it was an opportunity to go to another Olympics and I couldn’t pass that up. You have a chance to represent your country in the Olympics, you go do it.
New U: What was it like to play volleyball overseas and leave home?
Weishoff: It was probably one of the best things that could ever happen to me. You just learn a lot about yourself more so than if you stayed here. You have to figure things out on your own. It’s basically learning a new language and learning a new system of volleyball and making all new friends. I loved every moment of it. I loved being in Italy, and also in Brazil and Japan.
New U: When your playing career was finished, what made you decide to go into coaching?
Weishoff: I had an opportunity with Lisa Love to go back and get my degree because I was only at USC for a year. She said, “Why don’t you come back and get your degree and see if you like coaching,” and that’s when I fell in love with it. I was making a difference in peoples’ lives.
New U: You have won countless awards both as a coach and a player. Which stick out to you the most?
PW: I would give back all my awards to have a gold medal. The team aspect is more than an individual award. I played volleyball because I loved it, and the honors that came along the way are extra.
New U: Why did you decide to come and coach at UC Irvine?
PW: I felt that we could build a top 25 program here. Talking to Mike Izzi and where he wants to go with the team, it gave me a chance to go back to a Division I program without having to move. I think that this is a great place to build-up a program.
New U: What are your goals and expectations for the women’s volleyball team and the program overall?
PW: It’s not only about being a top 25 program, contending for a conference title and going to the tournament. It’s also seeing how far we can go. Can we be a Final Four team? It’s how far can we take this program. It’s also about creating All-Americans and also Academic-Americans and making sure the girls get their degrees. We have to get out to the community. In six months, we have done a ton.
New U: How are you enjoying your first season at UC Irvine so far?
PW: I love UCI. All the other players and coaches—we all get along. We all generally care about each other. I love it. I am very tired because it is a lot of work, but it’s great at the same time because it’s like that puzzle you are building. You just keep adding on to it.