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Former college volleyball MVP starts from scratch as coach at Orangewood Academy

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Steve Klosterman was an All-American volleyball player at UCLA and most valuable player of the 2006 NCAA championships.

Now 32, he remembers watching three sports movies growing up.

There was the “Bad News Bears,” a 1976 movie about a team of misfits coached by a former minor leaguer. There was the “Mighty Ducks,” a 1992 movie about a rag-tag team of youth ice hockey players coached by a lawyer sentenced to community service. And there was “Little Giants,” a 1994 movie about outcasts forming their own peewee football team coached by an elite team’s brother.

So which movie reminds Klosterman of the high school team he’s currently coaching?

“This is like the ‘Mighty Ducks,’ ” he said of the volleyball team at tiny Orangewood Academy in Garden Grove. “You have to figure it out and help them out.”

The season started with a team meeting seeking players. Eight of the 10 players who joined the team had never played volleyball. Several were soccer players. Guess what the soccer players were doing with the volleyball?

“They’d try to kick it instead of use their hands,” Klosterman said.

But the soccer players also were good at using their heads to keep rallies alive. Gee, where did they learn that from?

The first practice involved explaining the rules.

“We literally had to explain how many contacts you’re allowed, how many rotations, how you score points on a play,” Klosterman said.

He didn’t mind the opportunity to start from scratch. It was like coaching at a children’s camp, something he had done as a club coach.

“That’s my thing: technique,” he said. “It’s my specialty. It was an interesting experience taking such raw clay and molding it. They had no other influence, so I could get them to do exactly what I wanted.”

The first weeks of the season went pretty much as expected. The team started 0-9.

“We started off terrible,” senior Drew Nate said. “It was weird. We were losing but still having fun.”

Like the coaches from the sports movies, Klosterman kept telling his players to hang in there.

“There was so much we had to do,” the coach said. “I had weekly goals to keep improving. We were barely losing games. It’s a good group of kids. They all know each other. They all get along. They’re always singing and dancing in the car, and their energy is so uplifting.”

Finally, after its first victory, which required five sets, the team got to celebrate.

“They were going crazy,” Klosterman said.

It’s quite a group of individuals. There’s one star player — 6-foot-5 Uriel Batista, a native of Panama. There’s also a setter from Brazil, Artur Paraizo. And there’s Nate, who rises at 5 a.m. to take the Metrolink train from Riverside to Anaheim, then takes an Uber to school.

Each morning, among passengers carrying briefcases and wearing business suits, he’s one of the youngest on the 6:24 a.m. train.

“I’m the only one with a backpack,” he said.

In the evening, he hops on the 7:02 p.m. train to go home. If he wasn’t playing volleyball, he’d be on the 3:57 p.m. train. Yes, he knows all the train times to their precise minute, and he couldn’t be happier being a commuter.

“We’re having fun and starting to win,” he said. “We were kind of the ‘Bad News Bears’ at first. You could count the number of people on your fingers who were at the game.”

Thanks to Klosterman’s patience, persistence and teaching skills, Orangewood has earned a berth in the Southern Section Division 4 playoffs, which begin next week. The team qualified because three of its four victories took place during league play.

“It’s really been a fun year because I’ve been trying to teach them,” Klosterman said. “I’m obsessed with the technique of volleyball. I like to see the game being played at a precise level, and the results will come.”

Nate, who went to Orangewood to play basketball, said of Klosterman: “I’ve had a lot of coaches, but I can honestly say he’s the best. He makes the sport of volleyball fun even though I had never played.”

Klosterman is just glad he watched those sports movies growing up.

“Even the Bad News Bears [players] got better at the end,” he said.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

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