Former UC Irvine setter Chris Austin helped pave the way to back-to-back NCAA championships in 2012-13. Barely more than three years later, he has written "The Way," a book about a perennial championship club team from Hawaii whose members are now starring at the collegiate level.
The book, subtitled: "A Hawaiian story of growth, relationships and volleyball," chronicles the success of the Ka Ulukoa Volleyball Institute, which through a unique approach adopted by its coaches, propelled a group of talented players to six straight national open-division age-group titles beginning in 2008.
Austin, the first African-American setter to start for an NCAA championship team, self-published the book that will be released June 25.
"This is something I really started thinking about in 2011 when I first saw this group play," said Austin, 24, who has played professionally since graduating from UCI in 2013 and also runs National Champ Volleyball, a training academy that holds satellite camps throughout the United States and abroad. "This team really caught my eye. As soon as I saw them play, I knew there was something different about this group and their story was meant to capture the sports world."
Austin, who was a volunteer assistant coach at USC in 2014, has played for four professional teams the last three seasons in Finland and Greece, and has also competed in pro beach tournaments, said while the book promotes the sport he loves, it also contains a message that translates to the pursuit of success in everyday life.
"From the time these players were 11 years old, until they were 18, they took a very unique path to success," Austin said of Ka Ulukoa's core group, coached by Pono Ma'a and Charlie Jenkins. "The group was very unassuming and very rag-tag and not your typical image of what a powerhouse would look like. But they were able to follow a pretty unique system and create history."
The core group of players included Larry Tuileta Jr. (who started at USC as a freshman and recently transferred to the University of Hawaii), Micah Ma'a (who starred as a freshman opposite and setter at UCLA this past season), Evan Enriques, a starting libero at Stanford and Skylan Engleman, a libero at Grand Canyon University.
"The way this team trained was just so much different than anything that came before them, at any level," Austin said. "A lot of it was related to the culture of Hawaii. They were taught to be always focused and always to look into the present moment."
Austin said he began interviewing subjects for the book in May, 2015 and finished his first draft eight months later.
"I wasn't a huge fan of writing and reading when I was younger," said Austin, who played high school volleyball in Nevada, was cut from the University of Hawaii, spent two seasons at Long Beach City College, then transferred to UCI. "But since I've been studying the game, and since I've spent more time around literature, I've been growing. I think I have the ability to resonate stories with people. Whether it be as a volleyball player, coaching, or writing books, my main goal is to be as influential to society as I can be."
Austin said the primary message he believes will resonate with readers of "The Way" is that it's important to live in the moment.
"The message is not to get too far ahead of yourself and don't fall into the trap in society right now where everything has to be instant gratification," Austin said. "In all endeavors in life, we need to have a process and we need to trust that process. When you find a process that works, you need to stick with it and not veer away from it.
"For [the Ka Ulukoa team,] that process gave them a way to go about things and create lasting success, and that's a lot of why the book is titled 'The Way.'"
Austin said the first printing was 2,000 copies and he plans to promote the book at the girls' Junior Olympics club championships (June 25-29 in Indianopolis) and the boys JOs (June 30-July 3 in Dallas).
He also hopes USA Volleyball (CEO and former Olympic team coach Doug Beal has provided a praise quote for the book's back cover), and other volleyball entities such as the AVP will get behind the project. He hopes the book one day may become a movie.