UCLA Volleyball Mourns Greg Giovanazzi's Passing
March 20, 2012
Greg Giovanazzi, who served a decade as a UCLA men's and women's volleyball assistant coach and helped lead both squads to NCAA championships, died Monday after suffering a seizure at his home in Maryland. A Culver City High School graduate, Giovanazzi lettered three seasons for Coach Al Scates and was a starter on the 1976 NCAA title team. He was 54.
Giovanazzi suffered from chronic migraines for most of his life, and stepped down from several coaching positions because of his medical condition.
"It's all about incredible pain," he said in a 2002 interview with Rollshot.com. "The level of pain dictates what I can do from day to day. On a good day, it's okay. On a bad day, I can't function at all."
At UCLA Giovanazzi earned varsity letters for legendary Coach Al Scates in 1976, '77 and '78, playing at outside hitter before leaving school as a senior to play professionally in Italy. The 1976 team was 15-2 and defeated Pepperdine 3-0 for UCLA's sixth NCAA men's volleyball title. Overall, the Bruins were 55-9 and won a pair of conference championships during Giovanazzi's tenure.
The 1979 team, which Giovanazzi left in his senior year, also enjoyed success.
"[UCLA] missed me a lot in 1979," he recalled. "They went 31-0 and won the title!"
Known for his sense of humor and storytelling prowess, Giovanazzi was the undisputed narrator of UCLA men's volleyball lore.
"Greg Giovanazzi was the chronicler of all things Bruin men's volleyball," said Scates. "He was the official storyteller -- the oral historian -- of UCLA men's volleyball. He was also a close friend and I will miss him deeply.
"His best friends were the Bruins he went to school with and coached: Denny Cline, Peter Ashley, Reed Sunahara, Peter Ehrmann, Dave Brown, Brian Rofer and Joe Mica," Scates continued. "He was always upbeat, always positive. The entire volleyball community, coaches and players, is mourning his loss."
Giovanazzi suffered a knee injury during his one season playing in Italy and returned to UCLA to finish his degree and begin a coaching career that spanned three decades. In 1980, he served one season as an assistant men's coach under Hall of Fame coach Dave Shoji at the University of Hawai'i. In 1981, he returned to campus, completed his degree in History, and began a 10-year stint as an assistant men's and women's coach to Hall of Famers Andy Banachowski and Scates. In 1984, he worked with both programs and each won the NCAA title, the men dominating the competition with a 38-0 record. By the time he left UCLA in 1989, he had played or served as an assistant coach on six NCAA title teams with the UCLA men and women.
"I was shocked to hear of Gio's passing last night," said Banachowski, now retired. "The sadness has been overwhelming at times today, but the memories bring such joy. He loved to coach and teach, and impacted everyone he met. He was a great man, a gentle caring soul that made each of us feel we were his special friend. He loved life and is gone too soon. My condolences go out to his daughter Casey and wife Deb."
Giovanazzi left UCLA to work as an assistant coach on the USA Women's National Team, for which Terry Liskevych was the head coach. The USA won the bronze medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Following the '92 Olympics, Giovanazzi moved on to become the head women's volleyball coach at the University of Michigan, where he served for seven seasons, guided the Wolverines to the second round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament and coached eight All-Big Ten student-athletes. When the migraines became more frequent and severe, he was forced to resign.
Giovanazzi and his family moved east where he volunteered one season (2001) at Loyola College in Maryland. In 2003, he became head coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he led the Retrievers for two years before leaving again for health reasons. In 2008, he became head coach at Johns Hopkins, serving two years and leading the Blue Jays to a combined record of 36-17, including a 20-7 mark in his first season. He stepped down again because of his health.
One of the most beloved figures in UCLA volleyball history, Gregory Leland Giovanazzi was born Nov. 30, 1957 in Culver City where he graduated in 1975 from Culver City High after lettering six times in football, basketball and volleyball. In volleyball he was the Centaur's captain for two years. He was a tight end in football and a forward in basketball.
In addition to his UCLA coaching duties, Giovanazzi served as head coach at Santa Monica College in 1983 and '84. In 1983, he guided the Corsairs to the State Junior College volleyball championship and was voted Coach of the Year. In the early 1980s, his knee had healed well enough for him to play for the USA Team in the 1983 Pan Am Games and in the World University Games. He earned USVBA All-America honors in 1983, '84 and '86.
He is survived by his wife Deb and a daughter Casey, a freshman setter at the University of North Florida. Services are pending.
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