In 2014, Brandon Pank took over as head coach for a West Ranch volleyball team that had gone 8-15-2 overall and 4-6 in the Foothill League the season prior.
This year, the Wildcats are undefeated in league and are on track to meeting their team goal of becoming the hardest working team in Southern California.
They’ve taken down powerhouses Hart and Valencia this year, something the team’s seniors have never dreamed of doing in one season.
Pank has three NCAA Division 1 commits on his team and promising underclassmen. He shared with The Signal how he got to the place he’s at now, and what could come next.
Q: You said you were doing lesson plans before this interview. What do you teach?A: Volleyball. I run private volleyball lessons through Legacy Volleyball (Club’s) gym. So any time we have a lot of younger students who are just starting volleyball, (we) bridge the gap and transition them from USVYL and the younger or lower levels of volleyball into club volleyball and then hopefully high school volleyball. We offer private lessons, so I do a lot of those every other day.
Q: So that’s your day job?
A: That’s my pretty steady income, and then I coach a multitude of teams at Legacy Volleyball Club, and then I run the high school program at West Ranch while I’m trying to get my credentials and my master’s to teach.
Q: What’s your teaching goal?
A: I want to teach high school art. That’s the dream. I actually had a long-term substitution job at West Ranch the first semester of last year. I was teaching their ceramics class, which was a total blast. Their teacher was on maternity leave so she came back and now I’m back at school.
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Q: It’s not often that you get someone who has a passion for athletics and a passion for fine arts.
A: As much as there isn’t a lot of overlap, there also is a lot of overlap. And thanks to my parents, I’ve had a varied upbringing. My mom owns her own advertising agency so I’ve grown up seeing plays and going to theatre all the time, and then my dad put me in every sport you can name. When I went to (Cal State Northridge), I was like, ‘You know what, why not do fine art?’ As I was studying there, my old club volleyball coach, he offered me a spot to coach at the club he was opening up. I didn’t think of myself as a coach, even though I loved playing volleyball and it was a big part of my life, until I started coaching and then I realized that it’s just as creative and just as experimental and it’s just as big of a world as art, just in a completely different way.
Q: Your dad had you try every sport under the sun, but what was it about volleyball that really stuck with you?
A: I didn’t get into volleyball until kind of late in my athletic career. I didn’t start until I was a freshman in high school and a really close friend of mine, John Murray, was a stud volleyball player, and he was like, ‘Hey you’re pretty tall and you’re pretty athletic, so why not try out?’ I was like ‘Absolutely, why not?’ I wanted to play a sport in high school, and I played hockey my entire youth growing up. And I kind of didn’t want to go the hockey route in high school and thanks to John, I stepped on the volleyball court and I never looked back.
Q: Is it weird playing against Canyon, your alma mater? Is there nostalgia?
A: Nostalgia for sure. It’s always fun being on campus. I still have a pride about going to Canyon. Coaching at a different school doesn’t diminish that at all, but it’s definitely exciting when I get to walk in my old gym and say, ‘Hey, these are my stomping grounds, this is where I used to play, this is where I used to warm up, these are the speakers that used to play the warmup music.’ It’s so fun.
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Q: One thing that stuck out to me when I talked to you for our preseason piece was you said that you ‘positively pressure’ your girls. That’s definitely different, so what is your coaching style?
A: I think positivity in general is the thing that I can always give 100 percent of the time. Whatever situation I’m in, I can be a positive version of whoever I’m going to be, and in coaching, I think being positive and being a force for good for your players is a really big deal. One of my favorite quotes of all time, is a John Wooden quote and I’ve got millions, but it says ‘No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves, it’s who the teachers are themselves.’ It’s the idea that as long as you give fully of yourself and you give positively of yourself, your players are going to feed off of that and they’re going to feel it and they’re going to buy into it and they’re going to want to be around you. They’re going to want to work for you and work with you.
Q: Do they call you coach, Coach Pank or Brandon…?
A: Brandon, coach. Coach Pank not so much. My students have to call me Mr. Pank so it’s kind of like a separation where my players are allowed to call me Brandon and have a different sort of a bond in nature, whereas my students need to call me Mr. Pank and it’s a kind of a different sort of respect. I’m getting inside the players hearts so they get to get inside of mine and so we break down those barriers a little bit and they are absolutely OK to call me Brandon or coach, and I’m okay with that.
Q: Do you think you’ll stay with West Ranch for a while?
A: It’s my hope, especially because I want to teach in this valley. It’s my hope that they’ll keep me on, but I’m on a year-to-year basis and if I don’t prove myself then I don’t deserve to be there. I have to prove myself every season. Nothing is guaranteed. If I’m not constantly making our program better, then I deserve to leave. I should be gone. So I have to, it’s a constant need to prove myself and prove that I’m getting better and finding new ways to benefit all of these young athletes.
Q: What does the tattoo around your wrist say?
A: It says ‘What goes around comes around.’ Not only is it clever, I hope, but I think that it helps me stay positive. I very much think you can take the idea of karma two ways and you can do the ‘It’s just going to come back around, this person will get what they’re deserving,’ and I don’t like that side of it. I like the side of it that says strength of character, choose to do right, choose to be positive, choose to positively benefit and be a giver at all times. Not with the expectation of it coming back, but knowing that you’re benefiting someone else’s life and that can only create more good. It helps me stay a giver. It helps me want to stay a positive force in people’s lives.