Readers of Bill Dwyre’s column in the Los Angeles Times were recently reminded of a story of tragedy and triumph during last summer’s Olympics in Beijing.
On Aug. 9, the day after the opening ceremony, the in-laws of U.S. men’s volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon, Todd and Barbara Bachman of Minnesota, and their female Chinese guide were attacked while visiting the 13th century Drum Tower in Beijing.While McCutcheon tended to family business, the U.S. team carried on for three games under the guidance of his two assistant coaches. McCutcheon eventually returned to the team, which ended up winning the gold medal.
Todd Bachman was killed, his wife seriously injured, and the assailant leaped 130 feet from the Drum Tower to his death.
There is no page in the book of life that tells you how to be a gold-medal winner and have your father-in-law murdered, McCutcheon told Dwyre, now a full-time columnist but formerly the sports editor of the Times during most of my 30-plus years of working there as a sportswriter.
John Speraw with NCAA trophy
One of McCutcheon’s assistant coaches who took charge of the U.S. team was John Speraw (photo at right), a 1990 graduate of Arcadia High School who was a star volleyball player at UCLA and is now in his seventh season as head men’s volleyball coach at UC Irvine.
The Irvine Anteaters have finished the season ranked in the top 10 in all but one of Speraw’s years, and in 2007 reached the top of the mountain with an NCAA championship. This year’s Anteaters face one of its biggest tests of the season on Friday, Jan. 30, when they host Speraw’s alma mater, UCLA, at the Bren Events Center on the Irvine campus.
A couple of months ago, I drove down to Irvine to have lunch with my good friend Mike Izzi, who a year ago became the school’s athletic director. Fortunately, Speraw was able to join us.
I’ve been meaning to write about that lunch for awhile, but got sidetracked with other projects. Then Dwyre’s column, which appeared Jan. 13, and Irvine’s upcoming match with UCLA got me going.
First of all, Speraw’s parents, Dan and Susan, no doubt are very proud of their son. Not only has he had success as both an athlete and a coach, he is also a delightful person. Over lunch we talked about the Summer Olympics and how the volleyball team was able to stay focused on the task at hand through all the turmoil and the emotions.
It was an unbelievable emotional journey, Speraw said. We also talked about Speraw taking his Irvine team to Argentina to play a series of games only a few days after returning from Beijing and how that trip was stress free compared to the Olympics.
During his sophomore year, he and two of his classmates, Scott Albrecht and Lucas DeGraff, were members of a volleyball team that won a CIF Division II championship. Coach Freberg pulled the three of us aside and told us we had an opportunity to do some big things in volleyball,” Speraw said. “That made quite an impression on me.” Said Freberg: I don’t recall doing that specifically, but I’m sure I did. Even though they weren’t starters that year, you could see the potential.
That potential was realized in 1990, when Speraw, Albrecht and DeGraff were seniors. Arcadia that season finished with a 19-0 record, the school’s only perfect record in boys volleyball, and won another CIF championship, the third under Freberg. The Apaches other CIF volleyball championship came in 1984.
Besides his two titles at Arcadia, Speraw was a member of two national championship teams at UCLA, which has won a total of 19 NCAA titles under legendary coach Al Scates.
In 1995, Speraw was named to the NCAA All-Tournament team after having 11 kills and eight blocks in the championship victory over Penn State. He graduated from UCLA in 1995 with a degree in microbiology and molecular genetics with plans of becoming a doctor. “He certainly made a left turn there when he decided to get into coaching,” said Freberg, who recently attended one of Speraw’s games. “He was always an excellent student and could have done just about anything. I think what attracted him to coaching was getting a chance to work with Al Scates.”
Speraw was a volunteer assistant under Scates before becoming a full-time assistant with the Bruins in 1998. Now he is making his own mark at UC Irvine, having already won one national championship. He came into this season with an overall record of 112-72 despite the fact that Irvine was never a school known as a volleyball power.
It is now.
Note: After squaring off against UCLA on Friday, UC Irvine plays Stanford Feb. 6 at the Bren Center and Pacific the following night at Crawford Court on campus. Tickets to UC Irvine men’s volleyball matches ($9 for adults, $6 for youths under 18), can be purchased over the phone by calling 949 824-5000. Tickets are available at the Bren Center box office one hour before game time (generally 7 p.m.), or at the Crawford Court box office for games played there. Seating is general admission at the Bren Center and reserved at Crawford Court. For more information and a full schedule, click here for the UC Irvine volleyball web site. Also available on the UC Irvine website is a fascinating photo gallery of John Speraw’s Olympic experience.