For all the Carson Clarkes, Kevin Tillies, and Zack La Caveras that have come to represent the face of the UCI men’s volleyball program, there is Travis Woloson, an unheralded hero whose contributions have largely gone unnoticed throughout the majority of his career..
A fifth-year senior, Woloson has spent the majority of his career with the Anteaters coming off the bench as a serving specialist. In his final year, however, Woloson has blossomed for the Anteaters, earning a starting role on the team in addition to garnering AVCA National Player of the Week honors.
On the team, Woloson is currently sixth on the team, recording 124 kills while boasting a .332 hitting percentage. His true contribution to the program, however, extend far beyond the sum of the numerical values printed on the stat sheets.
“He’s such the competitive soul and spirit for this team, he’s the embodiment of so many great alums that have come before him that made this program culturally what it is now in term so that blue collar mentality,” said UCI Coach David Kniffin. “(He possesses) the continuous striving for greatness, this pursuit and unwillingness to ever be satisfied with good enough.”
A native of Laguna Beach, Woloson’s interest in volleyball was sparked by the prominence of the sport in the wealthy beachside community. Soon after, Woloson enrolled at the Balboa Bay Beach Volleyball Club, where he was mentored by former UCI standouts Taylor Wilson and Ryan Ammerman.
Standing at a modest 6’4”, Woloson was not a heavily recruiting prospect, but caught the attention of Kniffin, the assistant coach for UCI at the time.
“[Kniffin] saw that I could really fit in here with the group of guys that were already here and the culture that was already built, (and) that I would be able to contribute and build on that,” said Woloson.
Unfamiliar with the culture at the time, Woloson was told he wouldn’t be a good fit for UCI by other coaches, citing UCI as a mellow program for players who didn’t want to venture far from home. Upon his arrival, Woloson realized that was far from the truth.
“When I got here, all of the guys had a similar idea of how they wanted to win and I realized this was the perfect fit because (I had) all the resources I needed to get better,” said Woloson. “Everyone that could help me was here to get better, (the players and I) just had the same competitive drive to win.”
Woloson, who earned honors as 2010 CIF-SS Division Player of the Year after leading his team to a CIF championship, quickly learned he would have to work his way up the ladder after witnessing the caliber of talent exhibited by his peers.
“I remember coming into the gym and really quickly (realizing) that everyone in there (was) turning out to be All-Americans and great players,” said Woloson. “So I knew right away that it was going to take time and I was going to have a put forth a ton of effort and dedicate everything to being able to compete with these guys.”
Seeing the pedigree of the players around him, Woloson opted to redshirt his freshman year to bridge in order to bridge the disparity in skill between himself and his teammates. Instead of lamenting his secondary role on the team, Woloson began to wholeheartedly devote himself to helping the team anyway he could.
“I started to realize that I was in a position to help the guys that were playing now on the seniors, help them win as much and make their experience as great as possible,” said Woloson, who was part of the team’s championship campaigns in 2012 and 2013. “What I thought was, ‘Well, I’m gonna do everything I can to make their last shot at it as great as it can be.’”
Choosing to lead by example, Woloson established himself as one of the team’s hardest workers, an effort that no doubt bolstered the efforts of those around him.
“I just adapted that mindset that, if not everyone can play, that you still gotta ask yourself how can you make the team better, whether you’re setting the standard in the weight room or in practice.”
On top of adopting a more supportive role, Woloson became privy to the fact that unlike high school, he was no longer one of the bigger players on the court, and could no longer rely on his physicality to win points.
“I think I learned that real quick, coming in, I wasn’t 6’9”, and gonna be able to hit over the ball every time,” said Woloson. “So that’s how I learned that I needed to find unconventional ways to score.”
Fortunately, due to his experience with beach volleyball where he played alongside brother-in-law and Association of Volleyball Professionals standout Brian Lewis, Woloson has a solid repertoire of moves to draw from in his arsenal.
Due to the uneven surface of the sand and elemental factors such as the sun and wind, Woloson developed a more tactical approach to volleyball, where he learned to focus more on technique and ball placement instead of power.
“Lewis and I would just spend countless hours on the beach working on all that stuff, using your wrist, and finding different ways to score,” said Woloson.
A signature move that Woloson has perfected since his earliest days of playing is the joust, a move where the ball falls directly on the net and two players trap the ball between them and attempt to make it fall on the others side.
His jousting helped propel the Anteaters to take back-to-back victories against BYU at the Cougar’s home court this season; a feat that not been done since 2012, causing the commentators to give him the moniker of the “Joust Master of the Universe” in the process.
Regarding the success his jousting, Woloson stated there was no secret, recalling the “thousands and thousands and thousands” of reps he performed with a mild chuckle.
As the first-seeded Anteaters head to the semifinals of the MPSF Tournament next week, Woloson’s joust will be one of many weapons at the team’s disposal in UCI’s quest to once against hoist championship gold.
Though this season marks the outside hitter’s first postseason cast in a starting role, Woloson remains as humble as ever, defecting the spotlight back towards his teammates.
“It feels great, it’s been really fun, I just feel like I’m building confidence, my teammates are so confident, you can just watch them play, they all just feel real sure what their doing and they’re aggressive, so I’m just trying to feed off of that.”
To Kniffin, Woloson’s continued modesty comes as no surprise.
“He’s competitive, he’s fiery, he’s super humble, he’s totally transparent in the most beautiful sense of the word, he is what you see every day,” said Kniffin.
Regardless of what happens in the postseason, Woloson can rest assured that he has undoubtedly left his mark on the program.
“I hope Irvine always just keeps that blue collar attitude and even though we don’t have (what) USC or UCLA and other big schools do, that we never lose that fire and worth ethic and drive the bus on that part,” said Woloson. “If we keep embodying that, you’re going to keep seeing not just great volleyball players come out of this program but great people that will contribute to society as well.”