Stevenson mens volleyball head coach since 2016, Aldis Berzins
Stevenson men’s volleyball head coach since 2016, Aldis Berzins
Go Mustang Sports

Stevenson men’s volleyball head coach Aldis Berzins to retire after 7 years

The 1984 Olympic gold medalist and volleyball icon will be calling it a career with an overall record of 129-61, handing the reins to Stevenson alumnus Jason Gardner

As one door closes, another opens for Stevenson men’s volleyball as they’ll begin the upcoming spring season with a crucial personnel change.  

Head coach Aldis Berzins is set to officially retire this January, leaving the young team under the leadership of a familiar Stevenson face in Jason Gardner. 

“[Gardner’s] got a passion for it and I think he’ll be great,” Berzins said. “He’ll do it his own way and pick up things, I think the program’s in really great hands.”

A year before Berzins came to Stevenson, Gardner was a member of one of the most successful teams in SU men’s volleyball history, making a tournament run to the NCAA Final Four in 2016. After graduating in 2019, Gardner just couldn’t stay away, serving as an assistant coach since the fall of 2020. 

Before his time at Stevenson, Berzins spent many years building his name at the collegiate and professional level. Starting his career in 1975 at Ohio State University, he was an outside hitter who led his team to four straight NCAA Final Four appearances. At OSU, he also received multiple Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) accolades including 3 first team selections, back-to-back Player of the Year awards and 2 Volleyball Magazine All-American honors. 

After college, Berzins joined the U.S. National team and appeared in many international tournaments, including the 1978 & 1982 FIVB World Championships, 1977 & 1985 FIVB World Cups, 1979 & 1983 Pan American Games, and the 1981 Canada Cup.  

Across all levels of competition, Berzins says the main focus was always to enjoy his time.  

It’s a joy to play. Even at the national level, if it wasn’t fun, it’s not right. 7 years of being in the gym 4 hours a day, but it had to be fun all along the way.” 

Berzins’ headlining accomplishment came in Los Angeles in 1984, where he not only competed on the U.S. Olympic team, but came home with a gold medal for team U.S.A. He then went on to be an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic women’s team in 1996 before coaching the men’s professional level in Italy and various national team development programs across the U.S.  

Coach Gardner and senior middle hitter Aidan O’Brien always noticed that even with his long list of accomplishments, Berzins never lost his passion and love for the sport. Gardner says he continues to see how much Berzins enjoys the process and the game, even after 4 decades in the sport. 

O’Brien adds, “Being a retired man who’s accomplished so much and for him to come to a division III school like Stevenson despite his caliber… he treats it like it’s the national team whether it’s practice or games or drills. He makes us try to compete at the highest level possible.” 

Berzins (12) and other national team members during their Olympic gold year, 1984

Now that Berzins is stepping away from volleyball, Gardner is ready to take on the position of head coach. Berzins says Gardner is ready to step up as head coach now that he’s taught him everything he knows. 

Gardner says having Berzins as his mentor was a great opportunity in that he got to learn from one of the best, but Berzins always allowed him to have his own voice.  

“He was always great about getting me involved in running practice even before this year, getting involved in recruiting, and making me feel like I always had a voice on the team.” 

Gardner also expresses that while Berzins was a great coach during his time, he’s not trying to be another Berzins. Trying to copy Berzins wouldn’t allow Gardner to grow as a coach and bring his own ideas into the program. He does, however, appreciate the central mindset that Berzins leaves behind. 

“The thing I want to continue is keeping the focus on, you know, players come first. Aldis has achieved so much as a player and as a coach throughout his career, but the program was never about him.”

Berzins expresses the same mentality, that while his coaching style worked for him, Gardner has so much knowledge of his own to bring to the team. 

“He’s got a passion for it, and I think he’ll be great. He’ll do it his own way and pick up things, and I think [the] program’s in really great hands. It’ll be change, but it’ll be good change.” 

Gardner has been with Stevenson’s team since this class of 2024 came in as freshmen and O’Brien says that provides reassurance during this time of change.  

I don’t think expectations change at all and no goals are shortened with Jason as our head coach,” O’Brien said. “If anyone has the capability to come in and lead as well as Aldis did, it’s Jason.” 

Gardner and O’Brien both express how this year, the goals are set high. After a year of youth and development last season, the Mustang’s sights are set on a MAC Championship and an NCAA Tournament bid.  

“We have a really talented team, with a lot of really good players,” Gardner said. “I think conference championships are for sure in our reach and getting the chance to play in the tournament, well everybody’s got a shot at that point.” 

As Berzins is preparing to hand his team off, he reflects on his time as a coach at the professional level in Italy, at the Olympic level with the 1996 Women’s USA team, and now at Stevenson with a driven group. His advice to players and other coaches is to keep contributing to volleyball even after your time playing is up.  

“Giving back, you know, I think that’s important,” Berzins said. “Give back to the game because it’s a great game.” 

O’Brien describes this year’s team as a “talented group of returners with various accolades and dynamic underclassmen with something to prove.”  

Berzins gives one final remark as he passes the baton to coach Gardner: “I wish you guys well and you’re in good hands. Have hard fun.” 

Leave a Comment
Donate to Stevenson Villager

Your donation will support the student journalists of Stevenson University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Stevenson Villager

Comments (0)

All Stevenson Villager Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *