The Long Beach City men’s volleyball team heads into the state championship week undefeated and ranked No. 1 in California, just two wins away from a 10thstate championship. Their coach, Jonathan Charette, is also an alum, one who found his life path thanks to playing for the Vikings.
“I was a punk, I had no direction,” said Charette. After playing at LBCC he went on to BYU and then to enter the world of coaching. “I was lucky to find a mentor like Randy Totorp who helped me find my way. That lit a fire under me to come back and help.”
This year’s LBCC team reflects its coach’s history. Charette said that 11 of the 26 players on the roster are “second chance” athletes, guys who didn’t come straight to LBCC out of high school. Some had academic struggles at other colleges, some had financial issues or were sidetracked by other life issues or family problems.
“The average age of our starters is over 20 years old,” said Charette. “One of the reasons we’re here is to give guys a second shot. It’s a more mature group, we have a lot of guys looking for redemption.”
So far the path for the Vikings has looked pretty straight. They’re 20-0 and have lost just eight sets all season, having already beaten all the remaining teams in the state tournament at least twice. That doesn’t mean that the team is expecting an easy path to a title this weekend—they’re smart enough to know that’s not likely.
“We just all play for each other,” said opposite hitter Steven Rotter. “It’s so important that we have chemistry, otherwise we’d fold under pressure. We really are all friends, we hang out every day.”
“I love playing with these guys,” said middle blocker Victor Villareal. “It’s a family here.”
Charette said the team talks often about the parable of the zoo tiger and the jungle tiger. They’re the same animal but only the jungle tiger can survive in the wild, because it’s used to having to fend for itself.
“Our culture is to embrace the benefits of failure,” said Charette. “We want our kids outside their comfort zone. We’re okay with them failing so that they can grow.”
That’s a mold that’s worked well for this year’s Vikings team, with a roster full of players intent on making their last chance their best shot at glory.
LBCC will face LA Pierce on Thursday evening at Fullerton College at 5 p.m. If the Vikings advance they’d face the winner of No. 2 Orange Coast College and No. 3 Irvine Valley in the state championship at Fullerton on Saturday at 7 p.m.