In its first year of existence, the Eagles men’s volleyball team
won the top prize in an amazing display, without losing a single
set at the NAIA championship tournament.
“It was an incredible season,” says coach Trevor Johnson. “We
had no idea coming in how good we could be.”
Johnson, who had never been a head coach before, built the
team from nothing by recruiting players from junior colleges
and Division 1 teams, inviting them to be part of a highly disciplined
and supportive program.
But early results were pretty dismal. In the fall the team lost
one match after another.
“If you had told me in the fall that we would be national champions
I would have thought you were crazy,”
says Johnson. “We
looked like the Bad News Bears at one point. We’ve come a
long way, to say the least.”
But the eclectic group of young men “were all very coachable
and cared about each other off the court,” says Johnson. “That
made the difference.”
It took time to develop a team culture of hard work and accountability
that ultimately propelled the team to victory, says
Naseri Tumanuvao, the 6’4” NAIA Player of the Year.
“I’d never played for a coach quite like Coach Trevor who
implemented the kinds of rules he did,” says Tumanuvao. “Once
everyone bought into what he wanted to do, we ran with it.
Then we realized we had a good team and a good shot to win
the whole thing.”
Team rules included mandatory study time, sitting in the first
three rows of class and attending other Eagles sporting events
to support the teams.
“Basketball, tennis, softball, baseball — any game you can
name, the men’s volleyball team was there,” says Tumanuvao.
“It was good bonding to go to the games and cheer
them on together.”
Brett Anema, a 6’7” all-conference player and team captain,
recalls Johnson dropping in on classes to see if players
were complying with the rule to sit in the first three rows.
He says that the weekly meetings with the coaches to talk
about life “made a huge difference.”
“Coach Trevor would say, ‘How is your family? How is your
girlfriend?’” Anema says. “He cared about a lot more than
Johnson says these individual meetings with players
“Caring for them as individuals built that trust where guys
would run through the wall for us because they knew we
cared about them off the court,”
says Johnson. “I think that
was the biggest part of our success, that they had coaches
that cared about them. We understood that it’s not all
about wins and losses and volleyball is part of the bigger
The result was a unified team that worked together as
“I was stoked with how the team came together and each
one played their role,” says Anema. “Guys put balls away
when we needed or got touches off the block. We came
together as one, and that was huge.”
The Eagles came on strong mid-season at a time when “no
one had any expectations for us,” says Johnson. He and assistant
coach Brett Gillen prepared scouting reports.
“That helped us out a lot,” says Tumanuvao. “Before every
match we would watch video of opposing teams to make
sure everyone knew what they were doing. It developed
smarter players as the season went on which helped us in
the long run.”
The Eagles surged into the national championship in Denver
as the #2 seed — and Johnson took the team three
days early so they could get used to how the ball traveled
at a higher altitude.
“Other coaches thought we were crazy getting there early,
but it helped because on the first day of the tournament,
other teams were missing twenty serves against us,” says
Johnson. “Those are easy points.”
The Eagles showed up to matches in a big way, executing
game plans and winning 12 sets in a row with no losses. The
tournament and the season culminated with a 3-0 win over
Park (Mo). The Eagles ended the season 25-7. Dillon Auxier
was named tournament MVP.
“It was an incredible run,” says Johnson, who was named
NAIA Coach of the Year.
Concordia finished the season ranked #15 among all men’s
volleyball programs, one spot ahead of USC. It is CUI’s sixth
national championship (2000 women’s cross country, 2003
men’s basketball, 2011 baseball, 2012 men’s basketball, 2012
women’s volleyball). Combined with the women’s national
championship in the fall, Concordia swept the NAIA’s volleyball
Johnson will leave the men’s team next year to serve as
head coach for the CUI women’s team. But he leaves behind
more than a team.
“We came together as a family, from being guys who didn’t
know each other at the beginning of the season,” says
all-American Mark Metrakos, 6’6”.