Ryan Dangerfield, Staff Writer, @ryandanger23
Frist appearing in print, September 22, 2014.
Over the last nine years, the volleyball team has never had a losing season. During that time, over 100 volleyball players have graduated from Utah Valley University. The common denominator of the team is its most lasting member: coach Sam Atoa.
“If you look around at other volleyball coaches,” said Kalani Norris, one of the volleyball team captains, “none of the other coaches care about their players like Coach Atoa does. If we are home sick, or injured, he is always there to help no matter what.”
After graduating from high school in Samoa, Atoa went to BYU-Hawaii, and played volleyball for two years. To pay for tuition, he entertained and danced at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
He went and played volleyball for Brigham Young University from 1984 to 1988, and helped lead the Cougars to three consecutive National Collegiate Club Championships before beginning to coach at UVU in 1990.
“When I was in college, I was not sure coaching was the right path for me to take,” Atoa said. “After graduating with my degree in sports medicine, I was able to join their assistant coaching staff as an assistant under Carl McGown. That was where and when I fell in love with coaching.”
This past season, which marked his first in the Western Athletic Conference, Atoa led his Wolverines to a third-place finish in league play with an 11-5 conference record. Atoa recorded his fifth consecutive season with 18 or more victories, as well, with an 18-15 overall record.
“I think the most important thing to have in a successful team is having a group of individuals who are willing to go into your system,” Atoa said. “It is also important to have a group who are willing to sacrifice for the team.”
Atoa has six children: Sam, 24; Brad, 23, who just got married last month; Devri, 20, who is serving an LDS mission in Argentina; Andrew, 18, who just started college this year; Darci, 15; and Saini, 7.
“The support of my children, wife and my assistants allow me to make it possible to be the best coach I can be, as well as the best father I need to be.”
Daniel Jones, one of Atoa’s assistant coaches, believes Atoa does great job of incorporating his family in his team life and incorporating his team in his home life.
“Coach Atoa is a father figure for him and for a lot of other girls,” said Cassie Wahlin, also a team captain. “Coach Atoa cares so much about us as individuals outside of athletics.”
Atoa said sometimes the best moments on the job are not specific matches, but rather seeing certain girls who have been struggling to do things on the court overcome those struggles.
Every year, Atoa takes his team to his home country of Samoa as a team building experience, and also to help teach his players to appreciate the little things in life that they have.
“We had four girls graduate early and several transfers throughout the year, and the trip to Samoa was a great team-bonding experience,” Wahlin said. “People over in Samoa are so grateful for things other people take for granted, it was a life-changing experience for me, and for other girls as well.”