Here in Arcadia, we have another reason for rooting for the U.S. men’s volleyball team at the Rio Olympics. The head coach is one of ours. John Speraw is a 1990 graduate of Arcadia High.
He won three NCAA championships during six seasons of coaching men’s volleyball at UC Irvine prior to becoming the head coach at UCLA, his alma mater, in 2012. He became coach of the U.S. men’s volleyball team this year.
Below is a blog I wrote for Arcadia’s Best after 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Speraw was an assistant coach of the U.S. team back then. Some of you might recall the tragedy involving the head coach’s in-laws. That was world-wide news in 2008.
Here is that 2008 Arcadia’s Best blog:
On Aug. 9, the day after the opening ceremony, the in-laws of U.S. men’s volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon, Todd and Barbara Bachman of Minnesota, and their female Chinese guide were attacked while visiting the 13th century Drum Tower in Beijing. While McCutcheon tended to family business, the U.S. team carried on for three games under the guidance of his two assistant coaches. McCutcheon eventually returned to the team, which ended up winning the gold medal.
Todd Bachman was killed, his wife seriously injured, and the assailant leaped 130 feet from the Drum Tower to his death.
“There is no page in the book of life that tells you how to be a gold-medal winner and have your father-in-law murdered,” McCutcheon told L.A. Times columnist Bill Dwyre, who was the sports editor of the Times during most of my 30-plus years of working at that newspaper as a sportswriter.
John Speraw with NCAA trophy
One of McCutcheon’s assistant coaches who took charge of the U.S. team was John Speraw (photo at right), a 1990 graduate of Arcadia High School who was a star volleyball player at UCLA and is now in his seventh season as head men’s volleyball coach at UC Irvine. The Irvine Anteaters have finished the season ranked in the top 10 in all but one of Speraw’s years, and in 2007 reached the top of the mountain with an NCAA championship.
Recently, I drove down from my home in Arcadia to Irvine to have lunch with my good friend Mike Izzi, who a year ago became the school’s athletic director. Speraw joined us. That’s where I first got to know John Speraw. His parents, Dan and Susan Speraw, no doubt are very proud of their son. Not only has he had great success as both an athlete and a coach, he is also a delightful person. Over lunch, John talked about the Summer Olympics and how the volleyball team was able to stay focused on the task at hand through all the turmoil and the emotions. “It was an unbelievable emotional journey,” Speraw said.
And of course we talked about his days at Arcadia High. As a 6-foot-5, 160-pound basketball player, Speraw set a school record by scoring 42 points in a game, a record only recently reset at 43 points by another volleyballer, Dan Alexander, who is now a starting middle blocker and All-American at Long Beach State. But he realized early on that volleyball was more likely his ticket toward a college scholarship, and he credits longtime Arcadia High volleyball coach Chuck Freberg with steering him in that direction.
During his sophomore year, he and two of his classmates, Scott Albrecht and Lucas DeGraff, were members of a volleyball team that won a CIF Division II championship.
“Coach Freberg pulled the three of us aside and told us we had an opportunity to do some big things in volleyball,” Speraw said. “That made quite an impression on me.” Said Freberg: I don’t recall doing that specifically, but I’m sure I did. Even though they weren’t starters that year, you could see the potential.
That potential was realized in 1990, when Speraw, Albrecht and DeGraff were seniors. Arcadia that season finished with a 19-0 record, the school’s only perfect record in boy’s volleyball, and won another CIF championship, the third under Freberg. The Apaches other CIF volleyball championship came in 1984.
Besides his two titles at Arcadia, Speraw was a member of two national championship teams at UCLA, which has won a total of 19 NCAA titles under legendary coach Al Scates.
In 1995, Speraw was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team after having 11 kills and eight blocks in the championship victory over Penn State.
He graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a degree in microbiology and molecular genetics with plans of becoming a doctor. “He certainly made a left turn there when he decided to get into coaching,” said Freberg. “He was always an excellent student and could have done just about anything. I think what attracted him to coaching was getting a chance to work with Al Scates.”
Speraw was a volunteer assistant under Scates before becoming a full-time assistant with the Bruins in 1998. Now he is making his own mark at UC Irvine, a school never known as a volleyball power – until John Speraw became the coach.
by: Larry Stewart