Volleyball’s New Head Coach and Orator


Head coach Ian Choi watches on while Olivia Fairchild gets ready for a bump. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

By Emmanuel Berbari

Head coach Ian Choi watches on while Olivia Fairchild gets ready for a bump. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Volleyball has a new man in charge for the 2018 season.

With a young core making strides toward Atlantic 10 relevancy, when Ian Choi, San Jose State ‘17, received a head coaching offer in the Bronx, the decision was not very difficult.

“Fordham is a hidden gem in the NCAA Division I landscape,” said Choi. “The administration and coaches are sincere with their concern for the welfare of the student-athlete, the academics are elite and the university has the prototypical college aesthetic, design and architecture; all of this while being a 20 minute train ride to the heart of the greatest city in the world.”

Choi brings experience at the Universities of Texas and Kansas to go along with his time at San Jose State, where he coordinated serve and pass, while training middles, setters, liberos and defensive specialists.
Volleyball, actually, did not enter the picture right away.

“I played a ton of sports growing up, but basketball was my first love in sport,” said Choi. “Since I was raised in Vegas and we had no professional teams, I got to randomly choose teams to support. I was a big fan of the Bulls during the Jordan era and the Magic during the Shaq and Penny era. And unfortunately today, I’m still a Dallas Cowboys fan.”

Volleyball eventually came to the forefront, and his reasoning makes it apparent why Choi was Athletic Director David Roach’s ideal candidate to spearhead the program’s mission.

“Volleyball is the ultimate team sport. It’s difficult to be successful with only one dominant player on the court, success is severely dependent on all six players working cohesively,” said Choi. “You also need to continue to work to achieve a certain point threshold. You can’t run out the clock in volleyball. It requires a consistent and sustained amount of concentration throughout potentially 100 points. And so you can’t back down. You have to embrace the mounting pressure that develops when trying to close out a set or a match.”

So, when you are passionate about a sport, have success as an assistant at upper-echelon Division I schools and have a chance to take on a head coaching opportunity, all while being inside the oldest—and one of the most storied—gymnasiums in collegiate athletics, life is good.

“The environment is gorgeous. In my opinion, it’s the most scenic and artful university in the five boroughs,” said Choi. “A lot of universities in the vicinity of the city don’t provide that traditional college feel and instead directly inject the students into the city. We have Eddie’s Parade for the students to lounge around on sunny days, the football stadium, gym, baseball and softball fields all directly on campus. It’s certainly a unique campus for its relative location to the city.”

Choi dealt with a similar situation while at San Jose State. He and the rest of the coaching staff inherited a losing team, built it from the ground up and, in his final season before departing, helped facilitate a 17-12 season.

Working with a few talented veterans to mentor the promising youth plays right into his wheelhouse.

“My mission at Fordham is two-fold: To create an environment that empowers our female student-athletes through an emphasis on education and social justice. To compete at a high level first in our conference and then ultimately at the national level,” said Choi.

While it may take some time to reach those goals, Choi maintains a strong understanding of the extra-curricular nature of the gig and hopes to use that empowerment for purposes outside of the Rose Hill Gym. Shaping the future of his players is high on the priority list.

“Our volleyball graduates have no problem finding jobs or being accepted into prestigious graduate schools to further their education. The professors hold our student-athletes to a high standard while still understanding the demands of the student-athlete,” said Choi. “I sincerely appreciate how the university has a policy that limits absences for varsity sports. It’s consistent with our values of academics as a priority for our student-athletes.”

His team is off to an encouraging start. Choi’s Rams are 7-6 after finishing a large portion of their non-conference slate, and have developed a home-court advantage, collecting four wins in six games at Rose Hill.

With conference play right around the corner, Fordham picked the right time to rattle off a 6-2 stretch. In fact, the group could be poised to be the A-10’s biggest surprise, though Choi naturally anticipates success for his team.

“I’ve always wanted to run my own program, but at the same time wanted to be certain that I understood everything there was to know about being a head coach,” said Choi. “Truth is, no matter how much you prepare, you don’t truly know the job until you experience it. At SJSU, I had a mentor, Dennis, who pushed me and helped me become aware that I was ready to take the reins of a program instead of assisting one.”

Preparation has certainly not been an issue.

His time at Fordham can be assessed in a simple phrase: “so far, so good.”