Van Niel, a Southern Californian native, attended USC where he got a degree in finance and also played on the club hockey team. After graduation, he worked in the financial industry, analyzing and computing numbers for a dozen years. It was during this time that he rediscovered his love for the game of volleyball, which he had played in middle school.
During his free time, he would play recreational volleyball. One day, he mistakenly thought there was a game one night, and instead, found himself in the middle of club tryouts for a beach volleyball team. On a whim, he asked if he could help coach. The rest is history.
“I’ll be honest to this day, I still don’t know why I even asked this,” Van Niel said. “But I found the person running the trial and I just said, ‘Hey, do you ever need any extra help?’ I said I didn’t want to get paid because I don’t know how often I could show up, but I knew I could probably do one or maybe two practices a week. I just want to try it out.”
Fortunately, Volleyball Hall of Fame member Mary Jo Peppler, the person running the trials, said, “Absolutely, we’d love to have you help.”
From there, Van Niel’s obsession with the game grew. He refers to himself as a “nerdy, obsessive analytic guy,” and proceeded to read every book on how to be a better coach, learned everything there is to know about the game, and made spreadsheets to track the data.
The data-driven side of him provided the opportunity to be able to go to Rio in 2016 and work with the analytics team there. From that relationship, he got recruited to be assistant coach at Utah, before returning to his alma mater, USC.
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