Orange Coast College men's volleyball coach Travis Turner said Jordan Hoppe grows on you. Whether it be his playing style or his leadership characteristics, the 6 feet 4 sophomore outside hitter is someone who impresses incrementally.
But it's the growth that Hoppe has shown as a student-athlete that gives the Wisconsin native a special piece of Turner's coaching heart.
"He has grown more over a two-year period than any kid I've had in my coaching career," Turner said of the Orange Empire Conference Player of the Year, who has led the Pirates (18-1) to 17 straight victories, an OEC title and the No. 1 ranking in the state heading into Friday's Southern California Regional quarterfinals at home against Grossmont.
Hoppe's growth has not been without growing pains, foremost of which was an academic snafu that rendered him ineligible for the state semifinals and final last season.
OCC was upset by Long Beach in the state title match to halt a 12-match win streak, with Hoppe watching in street clothes from the bench.
"I thought I could drop a class after the final, but the teacher dropped me before the final, which made me ineligible," Hoppe said. "It was a tough time in my life. I definitely looked at it as a life lesson. I messed up. It added fuel to my fire and has given me more motivation to come back this year and do well."
Hoppe, a second-team all-conference performer as a freshman, leads OCC in kills (205), aces (26) and digs (111) and also has 30 total blocks.
But it's his leadership that is, perhaps, most valuable contribution, said Turner, a former setter and team captain who led OCC to state titles in 1989 and 1990 and has guided OCC to the state final four nine times in his 11 seasons at the helm.
"[Former OCC Coach] Bob Wetzel once told me that guys would have followed me off the pier when I played here, and it's exactly the same with [Hoppe]," Turner said. "Whatever he tells [his teammates] to do, they are going to do. He's not very outspoken, but he has a rare quality. He's just a little grittier than guys I've had in the past. One word I'd use to describe him is: relentless."
Turner said Hoppe's eligibility issue last season has aided his development on and off the court.
"That stuff happens at a JC, and for some people, it has to happen," Turner said. "It had to happen to him. It's part of the process and he kind of learned you can't just skate through things. He has learned to approach the classroom the same way he approaches practices and matches."
Hoppe plans to earn his associate arts degree next fall and will eventually play volleyball at a four-year college.
Turner said he would love for Hoppe to leave with a state championship. But regardless of OCC's postseason result, Turner believes Hoppe's experience with the Pirates has been the ultimate victory.
"It has been a really positive experience from my standpoint, the way he has led this team," Turner said. "He has learned things he needs to have to be successful in life. I'll never forget that kid."
OCC is a heavy favorite against Grossmont (6-10), which the Pirates swept in nonconference meeting on March 8. But Turner said the Griffins, who went 5-1 to win the Pacific Coast Conference crown, are a different team than the one that opened the season 1-9.
"San Diego City dropped its program and [Grossmont] added their best guy," Turner said of sophomore outside hitter Jonathan Ferrari. "I'm watching [the Griffins] on film and I'm shaking in my boots. Obviously we're the better team on paper, but they have some guys who can play and they have them in the right spots. Besides Ferrari, [sophomore kills leader Steven] Rodriguez was one of the best players in the state last year. They are the best No. 8 seed I've ever seen and they are going to be tough."
If victorious Friday, OCC would advance to the four-team state tournament, Thursday (semifinal) and April 29 (final) at Los Angeles Pierce College.