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Pursuing a Court Career : Peters Making His Case for Coaching Volleyball

August 16, 1990|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Alec Peters can hear it coming every time someone he meets discovers he has a law degree.

The progression of questions begins innocently: Where did you graduate from?"

It builds to curiosity: "Did you pass the bar?"

It crescendoes with the incredulous: "What in the world are you doing coaching volleyball?"

Peters laughs when he recounts the familiar inquiry.

"My ultimate goal is to coach with the men's U. S. national team," Peters says. "That goal is a ways off, but I'm doing everything I can to reach that goal."

Everything might be an understatement.

Peters, 29, is the women's volleyball coach at Occidental College, an assistant coach for the defending national champion USC men's team and he also is involved in U. S. national team programs.

"I'm in the best situation possible," Peters says. "I'm at USC working with a good coach (Jim McLaughlin), but I still have my own program.

"I'm really happy with where I am."

Peters is currently in Japan for three exhibitions with the women's national team, then he will continue on to China for the world championships next week.

Growing up in New York, the only traveling Peters thought he would be doing was the commute from a law office to the court room.

But he vividly remembers the day he told his proud parents that, after graduating from Adelphi University and the University of North Carolina school of law, and passing the state bar in North Carolina, the only court he was interested in was the one on which volleyball was played.

"After seven years of putting me through school, that didn't go over too well with my father," Peters says. "I guess that's every parent's nightmare."

Peters caught the volleyball coaching bug when he played on a club team in college.

During his final year of law school in Chapel Hill, N.C., Peters coached the school's club team, which featured a student who was a member of the Greek national team. On the player's recommendation, Peters was hired as a scout for the 1986 world championships in France.

In 1987, he accompanied the Greeks to the European Championships, where they finished third.

In 1988, Peters came to Southern California to work at a junior elite team tryout in Huntington Beach, where he met then-USC Coach Bob Yoder.

"That was a major, major break," Peters says. "He was looking for a full-time assistant and I was looking for a job."

In April of 1989, Peters was hired at Occidental.

Last season, Peters took over a team that was 4-25 and turned it into one that finished 12-12 overall and fourth in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

He then assisted first-year USC Coach Jim McLaughlin as the Trojans won the national title.

"Coaching men is different from coaching women," Peters says. "At Oxy, we spend an enormous amount of time teaching the mental aspect of the game. At USC we talk about it, but we don't take specific time out to work on it."

In April and May, Peters commuted from Los Angeles to U. S. national team headquarters in San Diego to supervise workouts for the men's B team. Last month he accompanied the women's team to the Goodwill Games.

Despite all the work, Peters' combined wages from his coaching assignments pale when compared to those of even a first-year lawyer at a major firm. But he likes the net return volleyball provides.

"I barely get by," Peters says. "I'm still struggling to make ends meet, but I love what I'm doing so I wouldn't trade it for anything."

When Peters returns from China, he will begin preparing Occidental for the coming season. The Tigers have a strong returning nucleus that includes senior setter Cathy Clark, junior outside hitter Kathy Lobel and senior back-row specialist Jackie Yoon.

Peters is also excited about a recruiting class led by Amy Sullivan, a 5-foot-11 middle blocker from St. Louis who will be one of five freshmen fighting for starting jobs.

"We've got everything going for us," Peters says. "In a couple of years, I think we can be the best program in Division III. We're way ahead of schedule."

Occidental's main competition for the SCIAC title figures to come from La Verne, the defending conference champion.

"If we finish second in the SCIAC this year, I'll be happy," he says. "But you never know. All we have to do is upset La Verne once and we could tie for the title."

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