Dayton Pagliericci never thought he’d be an old man at 25, complaining about his knees after a workout.
He never thought he’d play a sport where the only thing you hit is the ball, and he never thought he’d have so much fun doing it.
There’s nothing typical about the way Pagliericci found his way onto the University of the Fraser Valley men’s volleyball team, but he’s glad he did.
Pagliericci went to high school at Sardis, where basketball was king, but even though he was a tall teen (he now stands six-foot-six), hoops was never his thing.
He was raised on hockey and lacrosse.
He loved the contact and competition, the occasional fight and the thrill of driving an opponent into the boards.
Volleyball, by comparison such a passive sport, didn’t hit Pagliericci’s radar until he was out of high school.
“I started playing rec maybe five years ago, and I was only asked because of how tall I was,” he recalled. “I really didn’t know what I was doing and I never really thought about pursuing it as a sport.”
“But eventually I moved up to a Sunday league which was a little higher level with a lot of ex-university players, and that’s where I met Adam Chaplin.”
Chaplin, a former All-Canadian player at UFV who now plays professionally in Denmark, suggested Pagliericci try out for the Cascades. And so, with no expectations at all, Pagliericci and a buddy showed up one day at the Envision Athletic Centre.
“We were going to Australia that summer, so we weren’t going to play, but we wanted the coach to see us and have us in mind for next year,” Pagliericci explained. “The coach at the time (Greg Russell) looked at us and asked us what our experience was.”
“We said, ‘Ummm. Rec.’”
“All the other guys played club and high school ball, so he looked at us and said, ‘I don’t want you out there hurting my players.””
“We laughed and said, ‘OK. See you later buddy.’”
The following year was a perfect storm for Pagliericci as Kyle Donen took over as head coach and several of UFV’s middles graduated. Suddenly there was an opening for a big man and a coach who was OK with letting him on the floor.
“I figured I was going to be the tallest guy there, but I wasn’t the tallest guy there, so right off the bat I’m thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I actually have to show what I have.’” he laughed. “So I did what I knew how to do, which was jump and hit ball.”
“I kept coming to the practices, they kept letting me play and eventually I said to myself, ‘Well, guess I made the team.”
Pagliericci was as raw as raw gets his rookie season, struggling with basics like blocking and passing.
“I remember one situation where there was a pipe ball and the back row is supposed to hit it and I got in the way,” he said. “All these guys knew how to run these plays and I was this big guy standing there going, ‘Uhhh!’”
Coming off the bench, he approached volleyball with the fiery mind-set of a hockey/lacrosse player, which was good and bad.
During a road game against Camosun, Pagliericci was red-carded and kicked out for yelling mean things at the ref.
“I was a little more… intense… than the other guys,” he said with a grin. “They had to tell me to calm down.”
Hockey and lacrosse were strict and regimented, with players expected to hop to it when the coach spoke.
Pagliericci found volleyball far more relaxed.
“I had to overcome 23 years where I had coaches yelling at me and throwing clipboards at me to where it was now, ‘It’s OK guys. It’s all ponies and daisies and we’ll figure it out,’” he said. “Sometimes it got too relaxed and I’d just lose it and not think about how it affected my teammates.”
“In hockey I’d say, ‘You can do that! Step it up!”
“In volleyball they’re like, ‘Don’t say that to me. My feelings are hurt.’”
Pagliericci was 23 when he made the Cascades, which already made him an old man compared to many of his 18 year old teammates. By the time this season, his third with the Cascades, rolled around he felt downright geriatric.
“We played College of the Rockies this year and they made a poster that said, ‘Are you my Dad?’” Pagliericci chuckled. “My knees hurt after every game and I’ve got to do these yoga stretches I’ve never done before.”
“All these young 18 year olds are like, ‘OK guys, great practice!’ and off they go and I’m going to sit and stretch for a half hour and then go sit in an ice bath.”
“I used to look at old guys and think to myself, ‘Why are you taping so much of your body’ and now I’m one of those guys.”
Pagliericci has two more years of eligibility left, so he could be a 27 year old senior in 2019. But he’ll finish his criminology degree in 2018 and next season might his last.
“Playing a varsity sport was always a dream of mine and I’m happy I was able to do this for three or four years,” he said. “But when it’s done, I’ll probably go back to my squash league.
“That way I can feel like the young guy again!”
Pagliericci’s Cascades are 13-3 in PacWest action and ranked No. 8 nationally this season, with the Chilliwackian among the league leaders in blocks per set (.54).
UFV is coming off a sweep of the Capilano Blues last weekend.
The Cascades are in Victoria this weekend to face the Camosun Chargers, with games Friday (8 p.m.) and Saturday (3 p.m.).