Getting to the Olympics isn’t something David Hunt had ever envisioned.
But that’s exactly where Hunt was last month.
A former St. Robert Bellarmine School student who grew up in the Glendale-Burbank area, Hunt was an assistant coach on the bronze-medal winning U.S. women’s volleyball team.
As an assistant coach, Hunt was working under Karch Kiraly, arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport. When not with the U.S. National Team, the 30-year-old Hunt is an assistant for the men’s team at Pepperdine. The Waves are coached by the legendary Marv Dunphy, who has won five NCAA titles.
“Both Marv and Karch are first and foremost great people. Marv has been around the block and has done everything there is to do in coaching. He has his style nailed down. His leadership is probably what is most amazing about him. He could coach any sport, lead any team,” Hunt said. “Karch has the wealth of knowledge from a player standpoint. He is one of the best learners I have ever been around. He values everyone and everything. He is the ultimate team player.”
Although the U.S. came up short of winning the gold medal, Hunt had an experience that some could only dream of.
“I don’t know if the magnitude has really set in yet,” Hunt said. “Every time we get to go to a tournament and represent our country, it’s a cool feeling.”
The road to Rio de Janeiro was a long one that began many years ago.
Hunt said he first saw his sister Jennifer play at Hoover High. Having been a St. Robert’s student at the time, he began playing for his grammar school as he was coached by Debbie Mariscal and her brother Miguel Segura.
“He was one those players at St. Robert Bellarmine that always worked so hard and just loved the game,” Mariscal recalled. “He was easy to coach, not because he was talented but because he listened and always wanted to improve his game. He was also just a well raised kid who was a great teammate and person.
“Even after he graduated high school he would come back and help me coach at the volleyball camps I ran in the summer. Seeing him coach at the Olympics just made me so proud of him. I always knew that he would make a great coach some day, I just didn’t know it would be at such a high level.“
After his days at St. Roberts, Hunt moved on to Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High. Hunt said at this point he began playing club volleyball. He then played two seasons at Pierce College, reaching the state final in his sophomore year.
“My success there wasn’t as important as the relationships I would form with coaches and teammates,” he said. “That actually paved the way for me to make it to where I am today.”
Hunt moved on to UCLA after his days at Pierce.
But he did not play for the Bruins or have any involvement with their program.
Instead he kept in contact with Adam Black, his coach at Pierce.
Black, meanwhile left Pierce to become an assistant coach at Pepperdine.
“He invited me to be a counselor at the Marv Dunphy Volleyball Camp. There I got to know Marv,” Hunt recalled. “Later that year, Adam took the Head Coaching job at Harvard Westlake School and asked me to assist. He had me learn a computer scouting software, Data Volley, that would help open a lot of doors for me.”
After winning a CIF and state title at Harvard Westlake, Hunt drew the eye of Dunphy.
“Marv had invited me to watch practice and hang around the office. He knew I was into coaching and I had some spare time,” Hunt recalled. “He offered me a position to be a manager while I was still in school at UCLA. My skills with Data Volley made me fairly valuable to the program. It was in my time volunteering that I was able to start soaking up the knowledge that Marv has.
“I basically followed Marv around, helped him with office work, ran video while he scouted,” Hunt said. “That time really laid the ground work for my coaching. Marv took the time to explain what he was watching for. He pointed out things that I had never thought to consider. In my down time, I was able to pick his brain about coaching, what he thought good coaches did. I was able to develop a friendship with Marv that taught me about volleyball and life. I joke that in 2007 he invited me to his house for dinner and I have been going up there eating his food ever since. It’s been hard for him to get rid of me.”
Dunphy recalled meeting Hunt for the first time at a clinic.
“It was easy to see that he was taking everything in at a high level,” Dunphy said. “What did I see along the way, someone who did great at everything he did and don’t let him get away.”
Getting onto the staff of the U.S. National Team isn’t easy, so Hunt had to keep options open to get his feet wet. He accepted a chance to become an assistant for Japan’s men’s team in 2013 before joining the U.S. women’s program in 2014.
“A friend of mine was hired to be their head coach and asked if I would be interested in being his assistant,” Hunt recalled. “While in Japan I had the opportunity to meet and talk to Karch Kiraly. The USA Women had played in Japan a few times and trained at the facility that I was living at. Karch and I began discussing what I had learned. We both had a desire to grow the game in our country. The women’s side has so many more players. The depth of talent is much deeper. We wanted to find a way to train the athletes all summer, even when the staff and team were on the road. I became the resident coach for the Women’s Team. I was in charge of training the team while most of the players were gone at a tournament. It enabled us to rotate players, rosters, and coaching staff members.”
Kiraly said he knew Hunt would be a great asset to USA volleyball based upon his experience.
“He has a lot of experience for such a young coach. He’s got experience in really good places with really good people,” Kiraly said. “He’s worked with Marv Dunphy for a number of years with the Pepperdine men. Marv is one of the elite coaches who has ever coached the sport of volleyball. I think of Marv as a mentor to me. Marv was my coach when I was on the men’s team in the Olympics and anyone that works a number of years for Marv basically has training the and the mentor that few other people have.”
Kiraly said one thing that impressed him with Hunt was in his stint coaching Japan, since Hunt does not speak Japanese.
“Having to figure out ways to coach with that language barrier proved him to be a learner and somebody who has to figure out problems,” Kiraly said.
Upon working the women’s national team, Kiraly said Hunt came in as one who did a lot of the behind the scenes work to begin with.
“We normally carry with our national a lot more players than can travel on any one trip. Normally we travel to a tournament with 14 players, but we have about double that when we are training together in California,” Kiraly said. “So when we go on a trip, we leave a whole team at home. We made David a head resident coach in 2014. He was in charge of running the training and doing the teaching and facilitating the improvement for the 14 players who were unable to earn the right to travel on the trip. In previous years we had had guest coaches and come in for a week and train our team for a week while we’re gone. We decided the easy opportunity for an upgrade was to have someone who coached with us the whole season and knew what we’re doing and what we had been working on to stay home.”
Kiraly pointed to a specific example of how Hunt’s work was crucial.
“He proved himself as our head resident coach in 2014. Some key people stayed at home because they didn’t earn the right to travel (to a tournament) that year. A great example of that was our opposite Nicole Fawcett. She stayed at home and made some improvements with David. She (then) earned the right to go the 2014 World Championships, where she made really important contributions to us winning our first ever major international title. We also brought David along on that last trip. He has continued to prove himself as a teacher and a learner so eventually I moved him up even more. He was a member of our bench staff during matches in the previous year.”
For now Hunt has gone back to his regular duties at Pepperdine. He is optimistic about the future, yet happy to be in his current role.
“One day I hope to be a Head Coach. I don’t know if that will be at the Division I level or international. I don’t even know if it will be coaching the Men or the Women. Right now I am in a great spot. I get to learn from two great people that happen to know a lot about the game. I’m not in a hurry to go anywhere. “
Dunphy said Hunt will make a great head coach one day.
“Because of all his hard work, he has made himself valuable and he will always have great options,” Dunphy said.
Burroughs High alum Max Chamberlain, who is a sophomore on the Pepperdine team, also praised Hunt.
“David Hunt is the man behind our whole program,” Chamberlain said. “Without him I’m not sure how our team would function. He holds us to the highest standard and comes to practice every single day expecting us to go 100 percent and that’s why our team is so consistently good. The guy knows volleyball and has definitely helped my game.”
For those that think the Olympics is out of reach, David Hunt is living proof that one can find a way to get there with hard work.