All too often, coaches concern themselves with win-loss averages while their players’ grade-point averages dwindle.
Over in Rob Gym, the UCSB men’s volleyball team has it all backwards, which in this case is a very positive and progressive notion. UCSB Head Coach Ken Preston runs a proud program that consistently achieves on the court, but never at the cost of a player’s education.
Case in point: junior middle blocker Michael Kennedy.
In his first quarter at UCSB, Kennedy, like many first-year students, struggled to adjust to the increased workload and the litany of reading we all face as undergraduates.
“Freshman year I had a little trouble with the rigorous studying and going to practice. I wasn’t used to so much reading and I ended up getting a 1.53,” Kennedy said with a chuckle.
He can laugh about it now because since then, Kennedy has turned that 1.53 into a 3.6, a turnaround that any undergrad would be proud to boast. Moreover, Kennedy has taken on the tall task of double majoring in sociology and psychology.
“Basically, I made the decision after that first quarter that I wasn’t going to lose everything I had going for me. Being at a great school on the volleyball team and having a scholarship, I wasn’t ready to lose that,” Kennedy said. “I was put on academic probation and they put me in the mentor program, which kind of sucked because everyone wanted to help me but I knew it had to come from within.”
Kennedy, a 6’7″ high-rising stud with the frame of a linebacker, was a highly-coveted recruit when he first arrived at UCSB his freshman year in 2000. A raw athlete, he was also recruited for his dexterous basketball abilities by smaller D-I schools on the West Coast and several D-II schools. For Kennedy, his athleticism was never a question.
“First thing that comes to mind is a boat-load of physical talent. Since day one that has been the case,” Assistant Coach Todd Rogers said. “Getting him to harness that talent has been the challenge.”
According to his coaches, Kennedy’s progress on the volleyball court has been a gradual one, mostly because the bar was so high for him to begin with.
“Michael has worked hard over the past year to improve his lateral quickness. He always could hit, but he is now a much more rounded middle blocker,” Preston said.
As if double majoring, volleyball and grasping high grades weren’t enough, Michael last year had to continue his duties as older brother. Michael’s younger brother David, came to UCSB last year with the original intention of playing volleyball, but switched to basketball this year. Michael has been a profound influence on David and the two remain quite close, living together in Isla Vista.
“It has always been a competitive thing with him and me,” said Kennedy. “I knew if he could do something well, then I could too. He was always bigger and stronger than I was, but whether it was volleyball or basketball, he pushed me to be better.”