Coach Paula Weishoff has led the UCI women's volleyball team to its first top-25 national ranking since 1988. Michelle S. Kim / University Communications

Coaching champions on and off the court

Hall of Fame women's volleyball coach Paula Weishoff brings her winning pedigree to UCI.

When UC Irvine athletics director Michael Izzi set out last fall to replace the retiring women’s volleyball coach, Charlie Brande, he wanted someone with a sterling track record who could lead the program to new heights. He didn’t have to look far.

At Concordia University, just a mile away on Campus Drive, he found Paula Weishoff, who had just been named National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Coach of the Year after guiding the Eagles to the national finals twice and the semifinals twice during her five years there.

“Paula is a rising superstar in the volleyball coaching ranks, and she has experienced a great deal of success on virtually every level – as a collegiate player, Olympian and coach,” Izzi says. “We look for her to have UCI volleyball competing for Big West Conference championships and advancing to NCAA postseason play on a regular basis.”

By any measure, Weishoff is easily among the best ever in her sport. Her eye-popping resume includes:

  • 1998 inductee into the Volleyball Hall of Fame.
  • Numerous MVP awards and championships while playing professionally in the highly competitive Italian, Brazilian and Japanese leagues for 12 years.
  • Three-time Olympian who won a silver team medal and was named MVP at the 1984 games in Los Angeles. Weishoff also captured a bronze team medal at the ’92 games in Barcelona, Spain, and was chosen as the outstanding athlete of the entire Olympic Games. “I was just stunned when that happened,” she remembers.
  • Outstanding Collegiate Player of the Year while leading the 1980 University of Southern California Trojan team to the national championship.

And these winning ways have carried over to Weishoff’s coaching career. After retiring as a player, she served as assistant coach at the University of Southern California – with the Trojans taking NCAA championships in 2002 and 2003 – before she joined Concordia.

“Just because you were a great player doesn’t mean you’ll be a great coach,” she says. “I’ve worked hard from the ground up to earn everything I’ve gotten in coaching.

Matching the success of the UCI men’s volleyball program, which has won two national titles in the past three years, may take some time, but after placing second in the Big West Conference last year, the Anteater women boast a highly touted recruiting class of nine new players and returning All-Big West first-teamer Kari Pestolesi.

“One of the reasons I came to UCI is that there is the vision, enthusiasm and support to build a top-25 program,” Weishoff says. “I’m motivated to make this program the best it can be.”

Her goal this year is to compete for the Big West title and make the 64-team postseason tournament. The team’s last playoff appearance was in 2004.

The Anteaters have started strong with a 10-2 record, which includes a season-opening upset win over then-6th-ranked UC Berkeley. They’re 21st nationally – their first top-25 ranking since 1988 – heading into Big West Conference play Sept. 25.

“Making the NCAA tournament will be the first step in putting UCI women’s volleyball on the map,” Weishoff says. “After that, it’ll be going to the Sweet 16, and then to the Final Four. It’s something we will be striving for.”

She hopes to do more, however, than just win games. Weishoff believes collegiate coaches have a greater responsibility to their players.

“I want each of my players to have a total experience at UCI – as an athlete, as a student, as a better person,” she says. “It’s important to help make not just successful volleyball players, but people who are successful in life. I feel honored to be able to have that kind of impact.”

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