12 Questions with Mike Stormin’ Normand – December 2013

1.) What was your most memorable win and why?

A:  Sinjin Smith and I, against Don Shaw and Jon Lee in the Santa Barbara Open winners’ bracket. Don Shaw was blasting balls and we lost the first game something like 11-2, but it took 45 minutes. We were down 9-2 in the second game when Sinjin dug a ball out of bounds to my side, he started to go and get it, but I said I would. On my way over to retrieve the ball I picked up a bottle cap and snapped it from my fingers. Sinjin had just that week showed me how to do it. I came back with the ball and we won 11-9 and the third game beat the like 11-3. After the match Sinjin said I wasn’t saying much during the match and he thought I was upset with him. When I snapped the bottle cap, he knew I wasn’t worried or upset with him and relaxed and played great. Needless to say, he went on to have an outstanding success in the sport.

2.) Who was your favorite partner?

A:  Old School: Rick Shaw, he asked me to play because his longtime partner Phil Simms, had left to go teach at Punahou, in Hawaii. Sinjin had left to play with the Junior Olympic team. He and I talked about believing your partner and not yelling at him or blaming him for any mistakes. We played in the 76 or 77? World Championships at State Beach. He was the original “Deep dish” setter, and the ONLY guy that might have had a better mustache than me.  I really enjoyed playing with him. I think we took 3rd place.

New School: Sinjin Smith, he was a young enthusiastic player that wanted to be the best. Believe it or not no one wanted to play with him at first. Since I coached him at UCLA, he asked me, if I would play with him. I said I can’t practice as much as I usually do because I had other commitments. I told him we’ll play in one tourney and do well then, all sorts of guys will want to play with him. The only problem we didn’t know which side he should play, so we switched every other match. He was one of a few athletes that could play either side effectively, as you know most guys could only play one side.

Hardly Ever Played: Dusty Dvorak, if you can believe it a USC and UCLA guy together. We played at the World Championships at Redondo Beach. I think we took a third. He was a great setter easy to hit, no wonder he did so well at USC. He was just a really nice guy, but mostly played with the National team.

3.) Who was the toughest (best) team you ever competed against?

A:  Mike Bright – Mike O’Hara / Von Hagen – Lang / Menges – Lee / Marlowe – Obradovich, these teams where both players were great competitors. There are many individuals that were very competitive.

4.) Who would be on your All Warm-Up Team? In other words, who brought the heat when they swung away?

A:  Tom Chamales, Steve Obradovich, Darrell Rucco, Skip Allen, Kirk Kilgore.

5.) Karch Kiraly had mentioned in his book how the only time he had ever been intimidated/scared on the court was at Marine Street in 1977. Karch and Marco Ortega vs. you and Sinjin Smith. Please give your side of the story?

A:  Sinjin and I were seeded 1 or 2, so we had to play an early match against a young and enthusiastic team of Marco and Karch. As stated, before Sinjin and I played each side, this particular match we decided to just cross the net and play the opposite side every change. The first game Marco and Karch are fired up and playing well. Sinjin and not so much. On this play I was on the left side and passed the ball to Sinjin and he set me a little outside. I jumped as high as I could and contorted my body to the left and swung over my body. The ball hit the top of the tape, and rolled along the wire, first on their side, then on our side, ten again on theirs. It eventually landed on our side, point them (also a side change). We weren’t very fired up, so I have a tendency to look for something, or someone to wake me up. My luck, Karch came under the net and picked up the ball. As he slapped the ball to get the sand off, under his breath he said “Choke City”. I felt it would be a good time to react to the stimulus. I said if you score another point, I will do something “not appropriate”, if you don’t score, I will discuss some “other” physical options. This fired Sinjin and me up and they didn’t score another point. We won the match. He can to UCLA the next year and I was a coach and he did extremely well for the program, 4 NCAA Championships. As Al Scates once said, “Don’t wake a sleeping dog.”  That’s my story anyway, I’m sticking to it!

6.) In your opinion, who is the greatest player you ever competed against? Who is the greatest of all time (short list / then and now)?

A: Mixed Men: Butch May     Women: Kathy Gregory     Mixed Women: Eileen Clancy

’50 – ’60: Gene Selznick, Mike O’Hara, Mike Bright

‘60 – ‘70: Larry Rundle, Ron Von Hagen, Ron Lang, Henry Bergman, Keith Erickson

’70 – ’80: Tom Chamales, Jim Menges, Greg Lee, Matt Gage

’80 – ’90: Sinjin Smith, Karch Kiraly, Randy Stoklos, Tim Hovland

7.) What are your thoughts on the rules/court changes we see in today’s game?

A:  Every sports organization feels it needs to adapt their game to suit may different aspects of the game. They do this to appeal to the changing audience and to garner support. Possibly a change is to fit into a television time slot. Sometimes, they try to level the playing field competitively.

8.) Another great story took place indoors when the opposing team started hitting balls during warm ups at your team. Rumor has it you confronted them with a comment something to the effect of: If any of you guys hits another ball at us, there’s going to be a fight and I never LOSE! Please explain?

A: Unfortunately, sometimes when you play in “open” tournaments any team is allowed to sign up and play. There are teams you have to play that the athletes are not as skilled physically or mentally to play at that level. Inexperienced teams have a tendency to hit crosscourt, due to lack of the appropriate skill level, and sometimes they don’t understand the etiquette, that it is poor sportsmanship to hit into opposing players lines. Sometimes I felt the need to explain the etiquette of the game. Sometimes by vocally expressing disgust, every now and then having my setter give me a 50-50 set and nailing their setter or disrupting their hitting line.

9.) What aspects of the sport do you feel have been diminished since the rule changes to the short court?

A:  I don’t believe the game is ever diminished by any rule change. The top players will adjust their game to fit the rules, court size or referees’ control of the game.

10.) If beach volleyball were to revert back to the old rules, what adjustments would today’s players struggle most with?

A:  I believe the biggest adjustment would be the mental aspect of the side out game. Some of the games would go for an hour or more. The ability to concentrate on your side out that long for one game could be a problem for some.

11.) What are your thoughts on your UCLA Bruins under the new coach John Speraw?

A:  First, any UCLA player and then assistant coach under Al Scates would be a very good choice. John is an excellent choice because he had already proven himself at UC Irvine. I know John will be very successful for many reasons.

12.) What are you up to these days? Family, interests outside the sport, etc.

A: I just retired from teaching 34 years, Fine Art, Math and Science. I coach and paddle outrigger canoes, lift at World’s Gym here in Honolulu, Hawaii. Enjoy my three children Stephanie (34), Eddie (30), and Kyle (21). I still paint and draw, make jewelry for my wife Toni. I sometimes help other volleyball coaches through clinics. Three decades of playing volleyball did a number on my knees, so no more playing. Thanks for asking me to participate with this questionnaire.