On a rainy Monday in the lower plaza of College Eight, the West Field House doors were propped open slightly by a pile of magazines. The loud ruckus filtered out into the evening through the crack: faint sounds of young men shouting and chanting. Inside the gym, the bright lights shone down on the UCSC men’s volleyball team as they practiced late into the night, working toward their goal of another National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Final Four berth.
The team’s setter, senior Eric Rowell, has stood out lately throughout the league for his spectacular play.
“Eric’s like the quarterback of the team,” head coach Jonah Carson said. “He’s touching the ball every round, every point.”
Indeed, Rowell is considered a team leader — he returns as one of three starters, and one of the few who have been here long enough to experience playing in the DIII Final Four playoffs.
“Eric could be one of three setters to take their team to the Final Four three times,” Carson said.
Many of his team members have high praise for Rowell, but since the beginning, he has been an integral part of the UC Santa Cruz men’s volleyball team.
Even as a freshman, Rowell could feel the pressure mounting on his shoulders.
During his first year at UCSC, the men’s volleyball team battled their way into the Final Four and Rowell acknowledges he felt anxious in the spotlight.
“As a freshman setter, I was extremely nervous,” Rowell said. “I didn’t want to screw it up for all the older players on the team.”
But even being a freshman setter stands as evidence for his talent and prowess. Rowell is one of only a handful of players to earn starting spots all four years on the team, and recently accepted an award naming him the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s DIII National Player of the Week. With all that Rowell accomplishes for the team, coach Carson sees his player as someone who epitomizes what an athlete should be.
“I think in the time that we train, the time that we practice, it’s clear that he’s a champion, just as we’re a championship team,” Carson said. “His commitment level to volleyball shows that working harder and getting better is something that Eric enjoys every day.”
Rowell is now the center of attention in the world of college volleyball, but his start in the sport was a family affair.
“I started playing volleyball in the sixth grade,” Rowell said. “My sister played in high school, I followed her into the sport and I just enjoyed it a lot.”
While residing in Los Gatos during his childhood years, Rowell played for one of Northern California’s most prestigious volleyball clubs, Bay to Bay, and participated in his high school’s spring team and Los Gatos’ champion football team.
Although he is now a senior in college, Rowell has not forgotten his roots. He practices in Santa Cruz every night, but also finds time to drive back to San Jose on weekends in order to coach at Bay to Bay and the San Lorenzo High School girl’s JV volleyball team.
According to Carson, nothing compares to the amount of dedication Rowell puts into the program, but what is most evident in Rowell is his knowledge and love of the game.
“What defines Eric as one of the best is his ability to deal with adversity,” Carson said. “He can deal with bad calls or when the team isn’t playing as well, and that is characteristic of a champion.”