John Wooden, a longtime coach for the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team from 1948-1975 was once quoted saying, “Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”
After winning a National Championship in 2011, the Springfield College men’s volleyball team repeated their success in 2012 by defeating Nazareth to win their second Division III National Championship in as many years.
There is no question that in 2011 the men’s volleyball team had talent. There is definitely no question that the team possessed character in 2012, but for Springfield College to have a coach that has been part of three national championship teams at three different schools in the past three seasons, now that is a true testament of character.
Ladies and gentleman, meet Kevin Burch.
Burch grew up in Orange, Calif., a folksy city of approximately 136,000 people just outside of Anaheim. Playing soccer for 11 years, which in California is a winter sport, also allowed for Burch to play football at El Modena High School.
During his junior season of football, Burch injured himself so badly that he was forced to miss the entire soccer season, and decided to start playing volleyball in the spring.
“My friends had played, my mom had played in adult leagues and the team was terrible so I said, ‘Why not?’” commented Burch. “I fell in love with the sport right away.”
Upon graduation from El Modena, after aiding his team in winning their first league title in 16 years, Burch headed to Irvine Valley College.
Here, longtime friend Chris Coleman gave him an opportunity to enter the coaching world when he offered Burch an assistant position at Foothill High School in nearby Tustin, Calif.
From there, Burch’s coaching career sparked, as he took on assistant coaching duties at Foothill, as well as getting involved with what was the biggest and is now arguably the best volleyball club in the country, Balboa Bay.
After Coleman asked Burch to join and play on his junior college team at Orange Coast Junior College in Costa Mesa, Calif., Burch became the captain in 2008, and finally decided to transfer out of junior college.
“Chris asked me where I wanted to transfer to eventually and I told him I had family ties to Ohio State University because my dad was born at University Hospital, my grandfather went there for his undergraduate and Master’s degrees as well as his PHD, and I always wanted to go there,” said Burch. “He said he knew the coach and would give him a call to find out about a spot on the roster for me.”
Playing Division I Volleyball may have been a little far-fetched for Burch and Ohio State head coach at the time, Pete Hanson, but the Buckeyes still wanted the aspiring coach to be involved with the program.
In his first year at Columbus, Burch was introduced to a program called “Data Volley,” an application hosted by Data Projects, which gives coaches the ability to track and analyze volleyball statistics on an iPad.
In just his second year with the Buckeyes, Burch was promoted to student volunteer assistant coach, and was not only coaching with an outstanding coach in Hanson, but was also coaching athletes that were the same age as him, if not older.
“I think what I had going for me was I was able to understand what not to say to them,” added Burch. “I avoided saying things that would make them angry as a peer coach. That worked out well because I became good friends with the kids I was working with.”
For Burch, the last match of his Ohio State coaching career was the most memorable, for the Buckeyes were able to defeat the University of California Santa Barbara Gauchos in five sets, claiming the 2011 Division I Men’s Volleyball National Championship.
In charge of blocking and defense, and working under Hanson, who was named 2011 Division I-II Men’s National Coach of the Year after winning the National Championship, there was no question that the stars were aligned for this young and aspiring volleyball mind.
As his final year as a Buckeye came to a close, Burch graduated with a degree in Sports and Leisure Studies.
Sean Byron, the current assistant at Ohio State and a former head coach at Springfield College, pointed Burch towards Alden Street to complete his Master’s degree, which would hopefully allow him to become a head coach at a young age.
Although reluctant to head to Springfield College at first, Burch was unaware of the incredible opportunity that he would have coaching under Charlie Sullivan.
“Once you work a few days or months with Charlie, it’s hard not to realize the opportunity that you have,” said Burch. “He is pretty demanding; when you’re in the off-season it feels like you’re in-season, but he also taught me how to work hard…and how rewarding it is to put that hard work in and what it can do for you.”
In Burch’s first season with Springfield College, the Pride posted an overall record of 33-5, including a dominating performance in the NCAA Tournament, in which Springfield swept Baruch, Hunter and Carthage in three days, ultimately winning the first-ever Division III National Championship.
In charge of running the Pride’s offense, arranging scouting reports on opponents and examining game plans with his setters and attackers, Burch helped Springfield to a .381 hitting percentage at year’s end, which was the best in the nation.
“That year the one thing I learned from Charlie was the importance of communication,” said Burch. “It was a great experience for me.”
In the days following the victory, Sullivan was tabbed 2012 AVCA Division III Men’s National Coach of the Year. Fittingly enough, Burch was named the AVCA Division III Men’s National Assistant Coach of the Year.
“Overall, Kevin brings a lot to the table, including an incredible passion that makes him very resourceful,” said Sullivan. “As a head coach you want to feel as if your assistant coaches are as emotionally invested as you. Kevin brings the same emotional connection to the overall welfare of the team as I do and I appreciate that.”
Following the season, Burch was intending on staying at Springfield College and completing his Master’s degree in Advanced Coaching despite being offered a few Division I assistant coaching positions.
All that changed when he got a call from David Kniffin, the first-year head coach at the University of California-Irvine, offering Burch the assistant position with the Anteaters, giving Burch a reason to return to California.
As good as the position sounded to Burch, going through the 2012-2013 season with UCI and Kniffin was not exactly what he imagined his dream job would be.
“That experience taught me a lot,” reflected Burch. “I was pretty naive going into it. Every relationship I had ever had with a coach had been great. It was easy. I thought no matter where I went I was going to get along with the coach. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along, it was just that we didn’t work well together.”
Despite being a learning experience for Burch, the Anteaters swept top-ranked Brigham Young University 3-0 in the NCAA Championship, giving UCI their second consecutive national title.
After winning his third national championship in as many seasons, Burch decided his best route was to return to Springfield College to complete his Master’s degree and help out as a volunteer assistant for both the women’s and men’s team.
“I was really happy to hear that he was coming back,” said Sullivan. “The guys who work hard to get more experience at a younger age are the most successful. When he said he was coming back it was just icing on the cake for me.”
This past fall, Burch helped out head coach Moira Long and the rest of the Springfield College women’s volleyball team by being in charge of the servers as well as the outside hitters, who as a team, put up impressive offensive statistics, including a .297 hitting percentage, as well as 238 service aces.
“Kevin has a ton of coaching experience,” commented Long. “He approaches the game in such a different way. He is a genius when breaking down film, which helps us scout opponents. His teaching skills are outstanding. Coaching both men and women are totally different and I think that he made a great transition into coaching the women’s team.”
These statistics played a major role in the team’s success and inevitably helped the Pride win the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Championship and advance to the NCAA Championship Tournament for the fourth year in a row.
One player that Burch had the chance to work with this past fall was senior outside hitter Tessa Smolinski, who was recently named Second Team AVCA Division III All-America after a senior year in which she posted a team-best 370 kills with a .316 hitting percentage, also eclipsing the 1,500 kill mark and winning NEWMAC Player of the Year.
“Kevin is an amazing coach,” said Smolinski. “He finds the little things that you can change to improve your game. He takes the time to make sure you understand everything. Kevin instills so much confidence in his players and believes that they can succeed. He pushes us to make us better and I am very thankful that I got to work with him this year.”
John Wooden once said “winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”
There is no question that Kevin Burch possesses both of these characteristics.