Lasers keep winning

There's no crying in volleyball.

At least, that's the way Tom Pestolesi likes to run the volleyball program at Irvine Valley College.

And who could argue. The Lasers won the California Community College Athletic Assn. men's volleyball title last week, their third state championship in the past five years.

"What's worked for us is a style we use here that is not super emotional," said Pestolesi, who is the co-head coach for the men's team at IVC and also the head coach of the women's team. "We like kids who don't rely on emotion to play well.

"You're not going to get a lot of 'rah, rah' from us. We want the kids to come in here, try hard, go to class, do the things they're expected to do, and when game time comes, perform. We don't give a 'Win one for the Gipper' speech."

The Lasers won the state title on April 22 in a hard-fought, five-set match over Grossmont. Irvine Valley won the first two sets, 25-17 and 25-17, but Grossmont rallied to win the next two sets, 25-23 and 25-18, setting up the fifth and decisive set.

Irvine Valley took an 11-7 lead, but four Irvine Valley errors allowed Grossmont to pull within 14-13. Irvine Valley finally pulled it out, 15-13, on state tournament MVP Brandon Directo's cross-court kill.

"Honestly I don't think the game was very well-played," Pestolesi said of the final set. "It was sloppy, but obviously I'm not disappointed with the outcome. We played hard and we played as a team. We didn't panic, and that's the way we were all year."

Besides Directo's state tourney MVP award, the Lasers also had Mark Metrakos and Kevin Fiske named to the all-state tournament team.

Irvine Valley has become a junior college power in men's volleyball, also winning state titles in 2007 and 2008. But it was the first state title for the rest of Pestolesi's staff, which includes co-head coach Ki Yi and assistants Miguel Monterola, Rich Brown and Shaun Juan.

Maintaining a winning tradition at the junior college level, though, is not easy, considering the rapid turnover rate in two-year schools.

"What has helped is the area," said Pestolesi, a 1978 graduate of Huntington Beach High. "Every year, us, Orange Coast College, Golden West College, we're just in an area where the great volleyball talent is. And hopefully we're doing a pretty good job. A couple kids come out and have a good experience, and word gets out.

"For us, it's not just about winning, it's about the entire experience, the every-day experience. Not just the matches, but the process is important. Do it continuously, and now it's paying off."

Pestolesi, an All-American volleyball player himself at the University of Hawaii in 1982 and '83, also said it helps getting support from the 'suits.' Keith Shackleford is the athletic director, and is a big reason for the school's athletic success according to Pestolesi.

"When everything is going well, it usually starts at the top," Pestolesi said. "We were doing well, but since he's arrived, he's put things in place that allow us to continue to be successful. And not just us, but every program here."

It wasn't always this way.

Pestolesi, who was an assistant at Newport Harbor High, was a teacher and coach at Estancia in Costa Mesa when he helped start the volleyball program at Irvine Valley in 1991. The Lasers won their first state title in 1993, but in 1994, Pestolesi left because he was only a part-time employee and couldn't devote the necessary time.

But in 1998, a full-time position opened up and Pestolesi became the head coach of both the men's and women's teams. The program has continually moved players on to four-year universities while building an impressive resume.

And Pestolesi has built a coaching staff that he says works well together.

"We have disagreements," Pestolesi said of himself, Yi, Monterola, Brown and Juan. "We bounce things off each other, but there are no egos. It's not 'that guy' or 'this guy,' it's 'us.' We use a saying from John Wooden: 'It's amazing what can be accomplished through teamwork if no one cares about the credit.'

"We surf together a lot and it's so much fun. We have a real feeling of family around here. It's exciting for the coaches, it's exciting for the school. There's a lot of people doing good things here."

And the good news kept coming on Friday, as five men's volleyball players were named to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team. Directo and Chris Reames were named to the first team, and Metrakos, Fiske and Caleb Brophy were second-team selections.

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