30 Most Intriguing People in UCI Athletics
He’s 21 years old and is on top of the world.
Last season, Jimmy Pelzel was named a First Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, the first time ever a player has been recognized with such an honor in the UCI volleyball program.
Slowly, the Lake Forest native will continue to creep his way towards the top of the UCI record books as he enters his senior season this year in search of the title of UCI’s greatest volleyball player ever.
The free-spirited Pelzel, however, always ponders what could have been had UCI not been in his plans his senior year at El Toro High School.
‘It’s funny, I never really got recruited by UCI. But I came to a UCI game one day and Charlie [Brande] was there and he decided to talk to me,’ Pelzel said. ‘Then he came back and made a scholarship offer to me and that was something I couldn’t pass up.’
If not for that night, Pelzel would have most likely chosen USC or UC Santa Barbara to play division one volleyball.
‘You can pretty much pinpoint it right there,’ Pelzel said. ‘I loved Orange County, so UC Irvine just felt good.’
This summer, Pelzel was a part of the USA men’s volleyball squad that captured the bronze medal in the World University Games.
‘That experience was incredible,’ Pelzel said.
If there’s one thing swimmer Brittany Marsh has learned since coming to UC Irvine last year, it is to take chances.
‘My biggest accomplishment is coming out to California,’ said the North Olmstead, Ohio native. ‘It’s really hard for people in small towns to leave everything they know and come out by themselves where you have no security. You just have to live life on your own.’
It turns out her decision to pack and move out West was just what she had in mind.
‘I wanted to be in California because I wanted to be around the Hollywood scene. I knew I wanted to sing and I really wanted to swim for UCI,’ Marsh said.
It seems the vivacious Marsh cannot get enough of singing in front of packed crowds. She performed moving renditions of the national anthem for numerous baseball games, men’s basketball games and swim meets last year.
‘I love to sing and I’ve been singing forever,’ Marsh said. ‘I’ve wanted to be a singer and that’s all I really want to be.’
Well, the 20-year-old took her first steps this summer when she auditioned for the hit television series American Idol. Though restricted from sharing the results of her audition, Marsh gave a convincing reply: ‘All I’m going to say is that I’m super-excited.’
He is not the prototypical chancellor of a major research university.
Chancellor Ralph Cicerone’s contribution to research in atmospheric chemistry has solidified his position as one of the nation’s most respected scientists in his field.
However, it is his hometown roots that have shaped a passion Cicerone has partaken in since his youth.
‘Western Pennsylvania is one of the hotbeds of athletics. So I grew up thinking that sports was the most important thing in the world,’ Cicerone said. ‘All the way through college, I was extremely interested in sports so I played baseball in college.’
Even in high school, Cicerone radiated enthusiasm for amateur sports as captain of the basketball team and quarterback of the football team.
Now in his fifth year as chancellor of UCI, his drive to integrate a competitive athletics program with a research-oriented educational environment has uncovered not only a revival in the athletics program, but also the resurfacing of campus-wide school spirit.
‘At UCI, what I’m happy about being chancellor is that we’ve helped to bring in a lot more pride and I can feel it happening,’ Cicerone said. ‘I can feel the pride in UCI developing and I don’t know whether I deserve any credit for that but it makes me feel good.’
4. Khari Johnson
It seems as if Khari Johnson, the fun-loving yet driven assistant athletic director for Student Services, believes life goes through a huge decline after the age of 35. Johnson, 32, has as many interests and has done as much as a retired old man will do in a lifetime.
As an academic and life skills coordinator with a sports marketing gig with Reebok, Johnson also enjoys photography, teaching, bodyboarding and training jiu-jitsu. He also boasts a UCI college basketball career, a NCAA committee membership and, get this, his own clothing company.
Johnson, from Lake Forest, enters his seventh year in his current post while also completing a doctorate in educational leadership at USC.
So how much does Johnson enjoy his job?
‘I love it! Every day is different and when you have the opportunity to work with student athletes, it’s special,’ Johnson said. ‘To see a student athlete come in as early as their recruiting trip, and then to see them progress not just as athletes but as people, that’s the part that I really enjoy.’
5. Adam Parada
He is literally the biggest star on campus.
A seven-foot towering giant, Parada, 21, actually has a side to him that is relatable to the average Joe.
‘When I was in seventh grade, my brother and I would make flyers during the summers and we went out throughout our whole neighborhood and our dad bought us a lawnmower,’ Parada said. ‘We had about 15 clients per summer and while all the other kids were out playing, we were working and making money for school clothes.’
Parada’s first job was as a game room attendant and a server at Chuck E. Cheese’s.
The moral of this story? Parada’s past parallels his journey to UCI because he wasn’t always the most talented player on the court, but he still managed to work his way up to play for a division one school.
‘I’m the first person in my family to ever go to college. I had no direction in my life until I found basketball,’ Parada said. ‘I feel God put this sport in my life for a reason and I’m not going to waste it.’
6. Jennifer Villasenor
From the outside looking in, you would never expect it.
But upon closer inspection of UC Irvine’s self-described ‘really sarcastic’ cheer coach, one will realize there are actually two polar opposite sides to the UCI alumna.
Villasenor, originally from nearby Santa Ana, works as a city planner in Los Angeles County in addition to her duties as the Anteater cheer coach. In fact, Villasenor has already run for city council and plans to run again.
‘In the professional world that I work in, it’s kind of funny because everybody is so fascinated by, ‘oh, you have another job? Can you do the splits?” said Villasenor, who is now entering her second year as cheer coach. ‘I’m just lucky enough that I can do both jobs.’
During her tenure as cheer coach, Villasenor has resurrected the program to a level where the squad will compete in regional competitions for the first time ever.
‘My goal is to completely turn the program around which I think already has 100 percent,’ Villasenor said. ‘But I want it to go 100 percent more from this point on.’
7. Pat Douglass
Oh where, oh where would the men’s basketball program be without Pat Douglass?
From the time he was hired from Cal State Bakersfield, Douglass has left a heavy influence on the program, one so instrumental that it has produced one of the most successful runs in UCI basketball history.
‘He’s worth more than most people know because he’s a quiet person. He doesn’t brag, he doesn’t seek a lot of publicity but everybody who knows him really admires him,’ said Chancellor Ralph Cicerone said. ‘He’s so competitive it’s unbelievable. He’s valuable as a teacher and he represents the campus extremely well.’
Douglass, who hails from Knoxville, Tenn., grounds his approach on a simple concept.
‘I think the main thing our function is not only to teach the kids how to compete and develop their skills, but how to assist them and discover themselves to becoming a young man,’ Douglass said. ‘I think as a coach in all my programs, I’ve always been able to exceed everyone’s expectations.’
8. Jim Pluemer
It has been a long trip for 45-year old Jim Pluemer. But now it seems he has finally found home.
In a journey that has spanned stints as the student athletic trainer for the NCAA Champion University of Wisconsin-Madison hockey team, to a seven-year restraint as an assistant athletic trainer and physical therapist for the New England Patriots, to a two-year stay for UCLA football, the outspoken Pluemer has built a solid foundation at UC Irvine.
As director of the UCI Sports Medicine Program, Pluemer oversees all operations of the program.
And after 12 productive years on the job, it is safe to say Pluemer’s program has proliferated. Under the Appleton, Wis. native’s reign, the training room has become a state-of-the-art facility and team doctors have been integrated into a program that stresses the educational success of its student athletic training program.
‘Jim really cares about the progress of his students and getting them ready for their careers,’ said Sports Medicine intern Brad Steege.
9. Annmarie Turpin
Simply put, Annmarie Turpin is the epitome of a warrior.
Back in her sophomore year at UC Irvine, Turpin suffered a severe early-season knee injury that would cripple her entire season.
But instead of cowering behind such a brutal roadblock, the athletically gifted Turpin held her head up high.
‘A person isn’t what they are everyday. It is what they are in adversity,’ Turpin said. ‘Coming back from knee surgery was the hardest thing ever and I think that’s my biggest accomplishment because anytime between then and now, I could have given up and said that it just wasn’t worth it.’
Now a fifth-year working on a Master’s degree in demographic and social analysis, the Simi Valley, Calif. native finds herself with some impressive hardware: a conference title, being the sole track representative for UCI at the NCAA championships last season, the recipient of the Robert and Phyllis Chichester Award, the dean’s honor list and all-MPSF academic honors.
10. Hayley McNallan
Hayley McNallan admittedly states how important soccer is to her life.
‘I don’t think I could ever give up the sport,’ the Tacoma, Wash. native said. ‘If something happened to me and I was in a wheelchair, I would still be out on the field doing something.’
It is this same love for the game that has driven McNallan to be the best player she can be