Sinjin Smith admits that when he was still playing he was upset he won “only” two NCAA titles at UCLA.
“I had fully expected after our victory my freshman year, that we would win all four years,” he explained. “It was only after I had graduated did I really realize how difficult of a task that really is. Nevertheless, when you are part of Al’s program, you believe you can win every time you step on the court.”
Luyties added, “We always believed we were going to win every match we played. As a coach, I loved the fact that we competed every day for our positions and he created an atmosphere that demanded you keep improving.”
Penn State men’s coach Mark Pavlik said Scates set the bar to the moon in terms of giving other programs benchmarks to shoot for.
“Any time you try to grow something and establish something, you need a goal to shoot for,” he said. “Al doing what he has done at UCLA, he gave us the goal. Your program wanted to be like his. All of us younger guys have seen Al as this figure with the Bruins. We’ve all seen what he has done and we have all tried to get there with our programs. Al let his passion drive what he did.”
Rofer is fascinated with Scates’ ability to push the motivation button into overdrive.
“There is an intrinsic reward in learning and trying to figure out how he motivates,” he said. “Al holds the last few cards close to the vest in the ways he motivates people. I have yet to figure it out. It’s that last trump card he has to get teams to play at high levels. It something he does and he does it well. He gets the best out of athletes at the right time. I don’t know if that comes naturally or he has a game plan. He has a game plan with everything else he does. He studies, studies, studies and prepares to peak a team. I’ve seen it over and over and over. How does he do it?”
UCLA 6’8″ senior middle blocker Weston Dunlap knew he was stepping into a special program the day he first set foot in the gym.
“Going in, I wasn’t even sure if I would make the top team because I knew there was such a level of success going on. It’s such a successful program,” he said. “Coach Scates set the standard. When you get there, you know there are high expectations. This is a guy that basically started men’s volleyball at the collegiate level.”
Many of Scates’ tactics, strategies, and innovations can be seen throughout the sport. Rofer notes Scates was one of the first coaches to embrace the “traveling camp” philosophy.
“Al’s an innovator in this industry,” Rofer said. “Other sports had camps and there were a few volleyball camps around, but he’s one of the only coaches I know that was taking instructional camps across the country. I remember going to New Mexico, Texas, and Ohio where there was no volleyball at the time. He’d bring us as players. Most of the people that showed up were girls. The girls would look at these big volleyball guys and say that guys don’t play volleyball around here. He changed the whole attitude of the country in terms of exposing the sport to boys. He was exposing the sport to other areas in this country that didn’t have volleyball. Al is one of a handful of people in this industry that has really made a difference.”
Rofer recalled a scene he observed in UCLA’s match earlier this season against UC Irvine. Irvine is coached by former UCLA standout John Speraw, who has since directed Irvine to a pair of NCAA titles.
“When Al prepares for a match there is a certain way he does things,” Rofer said. “When coaches that coach with him move on, you can look and see the papers they are holding are similar to what Al does. For instance, there are certain matchups where a red Sharpie is used. I looked over and even John had a sheet with red numbers on it. Al has had a direct influence on a lot of people.”