Andy Banachowski, UCLA women's volleyball coach, must sometimes get tired of hearing people say that his women are "great athletes." He has coached so many great athletes.
But that's a whole lot better than what people used to say when he started the program. Then, he was more likely to hear that his players were "great athletes--for women."
Banachowski's hair has turned gray since he started the school's women's volleyball program in 1967--but not from lack of success. His career record is 604-137 (a stunning .815 winning percentage), and his teams have won four national championships.
Last year, the Bruins won 34 matches without a defeat before losing to Texas in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. This year his team was 24-1 overall and 17-0 in the Pacific 10 Conference as the week began, had captured its second straight conference title and had won 22 straight matches and 35 straight in the Pac-10 over the last two seasons.
That's a lot of success, but it might have been otherwise if it hadn't been for Title IX, the federal act that decreed in 1972 that colleges should provide women the same sort of opportunities in sports as men. Without Title IX, Banachowski's program might not have had as many great athletes nor as much success, and his "real" job might still be with the UCLA intramurals department.
When Banachowski started as the UCLA coach, he was still a student and an All-American setter on Coach Al Scates' highly successful Bruin men's team. He also worked part time in the intramural department when he was asked to start what was then called an "extramural" women's volleyball program.
But he graduated in 1968 and took a full-time job with the intramurals department that kept him from coaching the next two seasons. Then he was named assistant manager and later manager of the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center, a job with flexible hours that permitted him to return to coaching the women's team.
Managing the recreation center, Banachowski said, "gave me the time to do something I really enjoyed, and I really enjoyed volleyball."
Coaching the women's volleyball team in its early years wasn't all that enjoyable. There were no scholarships, and Banachowski used to haunt beach games and take out ads in The Daily Bruin, the campus newspaper, in order to get players to come out for the team.
"The program was real small," he said. "We used to have about five to 10 matches a season and get hammered" by such teams as Cal State Long Beach, UC Santa Barbara and San Fernando Valley State, now known as Cal State Northridge.
When Title IX was passed by Congress, however, UCLA began to do the hammering.
With the advent of scholarships for his program, Banachowski said, "the picture intensified and changed quite a bit. (Title IX) brought me from being a part-time to a full-time coach, and athletics offered a lot more challenge and excitement."
The UCLA women began playing 30 to 40 matches a season, and losing teams turned into winners with records such as 28-1, 28-2 and 33-5. The women's teams were beginning to resemble Scates' men's teams, which have won 13 NCAA championships and two other national championships before volleyball became an NCAA sport. Banachowski's first national championship came in 1972 and there were others in 1974, '75 and '84.
Not bad for someone who never played a lick of volleyball until he came to UCLA and learned the sport from Scates, his first and only coach, and from fellow Bruin players such as Ernie Suwara and Larry Rundle.
Not bad for someone who as a sophomore was bumped for the 12th spot on the UCLA roster when the volleyball team was going to the national tournament. He had to make way that year for Keith Erickson, better known as one of John Wooden's top basketball players but who was also an All-American in volleyball.
Not bad for someone who was a swimmer and basketball player at Serra High School in San Mateo, and who had never coached any sport before he began coaching women's volleyball.
Banachowski likes to remind people that his high school has produced such leaders of athletes as Coach John Robinson of the Rams and Jim Fregosi, former Angels shortstop who later managed the Angels and the Chicago White Sox.
As Robinson and Fregosi must have studied their mentors, Banachowski did the same, transferring much of what he learned from Scates and his teammates to his coaching of the Bruin women.
"I tried to do with the women what I had seen done with the men," Banachowski said, adding that the transference had to be modified somewhat because the women could not jump as high or range as far on the court as men.
His early women's teams, he said, were better at playing a finesse rather than a power game. But women athletes have grown bigger and more athletic, and women volleyball players have been getting better training at earlier ages in U.S. Volleyball Assn. programs--and the women's game has been changing.