Global reach of American pays off on volleyball court

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FRIDAY ON ASN: American at Army volleyball, 7 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

Barry Goldberg was early in his tenure as the head volleyball coach at American University in the late 1980s when the school president put forth a 10-year plan.

“One of the lines in the 10-year plan was we are a global society, a global university,” Goldberg recalled. “I came from the University of Pittsburgh; it did not take long for me to realize I am not Maryland or Pittsburgh. I am at a different place and I am around the embassies” in the nation’s capital.

American, founded by a Methodist bishop in the 1890s, is located in fashionable upper Northwest Washington area and just a few blocks from embassies that line Massachusetts Avenue.

Goldberg had never been overseas before he came to American but he started to recruit heavily in other countries, with a focus on eastern Europe where women’s volleyball is very popular. His first foreign player came from Switzerland and in the last 10 years he has had several players from the Czech Republic and Poland.

This year’s roster includes three players from Poland and one from Macedonia, along with students from Hawaii, California, Texas, Florida and Arizona.

“I tried to learn what teams are like in different parts of the world because of the type of school we are,” Goldberg said. “I was looking for these unique academic kids who wanted to have more of a global outreach.”

He has certainly succeeded.

The Eagles have won the Patriot League title 12 of the last 14 years, and Goldberg entered this year with a 188-12 mark in the league. He has taken AU to the NCAA tourney in 14 of the past 18 years and in 2013 the Eagles won two NCAA matches. Those were the first NCAA wins for the program and the league.

One of the many Europeans that Goldberg try to recruit was Alma Kovaci Lee, a native of Albania who is now the head coach at Army West Point. The Cadets will host American in a match Friday on ASN.

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“She was playing in a tournament (about 20 years ago) in Italy with two other Albanians,” Goldberg said. “Alma was the best of the three. Another was older, the other one was taller.”

Lee headed up going to Temple and helped lead the Owls to three straight Atlantic 10 titles from 1997-99. She graduated from Temple in 2002 and is now in her 10th season at Army West Point, with a record of 186-85 going into this season.

Recruiting has changed since Goldberg began to make trips to Europe.

“Times have changed. When I began this I could not watch them on the internet. Once in a while I would get a video cassette” in the mail, he said. “Now I can get connected to the computer for matches in Poland” and all over.

This season American has been beset by injuries, more so than any other time in the 28-year tenure of Goldberg.

That could create an opening for someone else in the Patriot League to come away with the title this season. Before the injuries took a toll the Eagles nearly beat national power Washington before losing 3-2 at home on Aug. 28.

American is 11-6 overall and 2-0 in the Patriot League after beating Bucknell 3-0 on Sept. 23 and Lafayette 3-0 on Sept. 24. Army is 10-6, 2-0 after beginning league play with wins over Holy Cross and Colgate.

American, a private school of about 12,000 students, was in the Virginia-based CAA from 1984 until leaving after the 2000-01 academic season. Goldberg, who has worked for several AU presidents and athletic directors, was one of the few AU coaches who supported the move.

“There was an uproar. I was in favor of it, very much in favor of it,” he said, noting that most of the AU alumni base in from the Northeast. “It made all of the sense in the world to do that.”


Above: American University volleyball coach Barry Goldberg. (Courtesy AU Athletics Communications)
Middle: Army coach Alma Kovaci Lee. (Courtesy Stockton Photos)

David Driver

David Driver is a freelance writer based in Cheverly, Md.