The first time Chris Volk was a collegiate soccer rookie, he was the backup freshman goalkeeper on a San Diego State team that reached the 1987 NCAA championship game.
Volk became a rookie head coach on Monday when UC Irvine named the 17-year Anteaters assistant to replace departed George Kuntz as the school's men's soccer head coach.
"Was [the title-game loss to Clemson at Clemson] rookie-season luck? Possibly," said Volk, who takes the reigns for the first time in a college coaching career that includes 19 seasons in Division I. "It would be nice to have some success relative to that my rookie season as a head coach."
One might do well not do doubt Volk, who was cut from the junior varsity team his freshman year at Westlake High, only to play four seasons at the school, later walk on at San Diego State, then play professionally, primarily in indoor leagues.
"The [high school junior varsity] coach didn't think I had the stature to play goal," said the 5-foot-11 Volk, who has tutored UCI goalkeepers, among other duties, since 1997. "But my teammates kind of lobbied with the coach and I got the opportunity to try out again. I made the team, played two years on the junior varsity and two years on the varsity.
"I've had to work for everything I've got in the game. I think that experience provided me with a little motivation and I think I've always had that hunger inside of me. It's there still, not to let anybody hold me back."
With Volk as the lead assistant to Kuntz, who left after 19 seasons on Dec. 16 to take over the program at Cal State Fullerton, the Anteaters have pushed forth onto the national landscape.
UCI has been to the NCAA Tournament four of the last six seasons, and has won four Big West Conference regular-season and tournament titles during that span. The 'Eaters have been to the NCAA Sweet 16 twice, including in 2013, when they finished 15-5-3 and were eliminated, 1-0, at eventual runner-up Maryland.
During that six-year span, the program is 80-37-14.
UCI ranked sixth nationally in goal-against average (0.63) in 2011 and Volk has mentored Big West Goalkeepers of the Year Kenny Schoeni and Andrew Fontain, both of whom went on to the professional ranks.
Volk was named Far West Region Assistant Coach of the Year by the National Soccer Coaches Assn. of America in 2008, and is widely respected for his knowledge and professionalism.
"Chris Volk is, and always has been, one of the best resources in college soccer," Eric Wynalda, a former U.S. men's national team standout who also played professionally in Major League Soccer and abroad before becoming a television soccer commentator and Coach of the North American Soccer League's Atlanta Silverbacks, said in a news release from the school. Wynalda grew up playing alongside Volk in high school and in club soccer.
"[Volk] has waited a long time for this opportunity and UC Irvine is lucky to have such a quality person leading its program, [as well as] young and talented soccer players who get the chance to play for him," Wynalda said.
UCI Athletic Director Mike Izzi, who announced the hiring on Monday, said Volk has been instrumental in the success of the Anteaters' program, which finished the 2013 season with an ratings percentage index of 15.
"[Volk] is an outstanding representative of UCI and we are extremely confident and excited in his ability to direct our men's soccer program to perennial postseason competition," Izzi said in a statement.
Volk, who plans to finalize his staff, for which current assistants Mike Ditta and Carlos Aguilar will be considered, some time in January, said championships, at the national and conference level will remain the leading goals in the coming seasons.
"Back in 2008, we lost to St. John's on Thanksgiving weekend [in the Sweet 16] and, as we left the field that day, I told myself we want to be playing in December," Volk said. "This season, we played at Maryland on Dec. 1. But my goal is that this program is playing to the middle of December in the College Cup [the sport's Final Four].
"There is renewed energy on my part, knowing that I have the opportunity to be the head coach," said Volk, who thanked Kuntz for giving him the opportunity to coach 17 years at the school as an assistant. "But for me, everything is business as usual. I am just thankful and honored and privileged to have the opportunity to lead the program going forward."
Volk was an assistant coach for two seasons at San Diego State. He was the Grossmont High girls' head coach from 1992 through 1996 and in 1994 served as assistant coach for the San Diego Mesa men's and women's teams.
He also has an extensive background in club soccer, both in San Diego and Orange County, as well as in the Olympic Development Program.