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Profile of the Week: Coach Tom Sorensen

By Keiran President
On February 6, 2018

Photo by: Keiran President & Bruna Pacheco

Tom Sorensen is not your average volleyball assistant coach. He is a former Olympian.

Now in his second year as an assistant coach with the OU volleyball program, he has helped coach two All-Conference performers and one conference newcomer of the year in his first season as an assistant.

Sorenson is a former USA National Team member who played on the 1996 Olympic team, which finished ninth, and was named the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Volleyball Player of the Year in 1997. He was an alternate for the U.S. Olympic Team in 2000.

He played for the U.S. National Team in 1991 and from 1993-2000. Sorensen also played in the 1995 World Cup, the 1995 World League, the 1994 World League, the 1993 World League, the 1991 Pan American Games, the 1991 World League, the 1993 FIVB Grand Champions Cup and the 1994 FIVB Super Four.

Born and raised in Racine, Wisconsin, Sorensen’s sporting career began with basketball, but expanded in high school to include volleyball.

“I started playing volleyball as a freshman in high school, which for now is pretty late. My sister was a couple years older than me; she played volleyball and, luckily, I had high school volleyball in Wisconsin, where it is a fall sport,” he said. “Going into my freshman year, my sister was like ‘You should play volleyball’ and I was kind of like, ‘Alright, yes.’”

He agreed to play, thinking that both volleyball and basketball had the same complementary movements — he would get to work on his vertical, which would really help with his basketball game.

Little did he know that his passion for the sport would lead him to represent the United States of America in the Olympics.

“The more I played volleyball, the less I wanted to play basketball. By the time I was a senior in high school, basketball was a quick afterthought — it was all about volleyball,” Sorensen said.

In his junior year at Junior Nationals, he made second team all-conference, where he gained the attention of a couple coaches from college programs.

Following that tournament, Sorensen attended a summer camp in Santa Barbara, where he dominated and received full scholarship offers from different colleges around the nation.

His top three pics were University of Southern California (USC), University of California, Santa Barbara and Pepperdine University.

 “It was kind of crazy. At that time, it was really weird … you know. Kind of an anomaly,” he said, when asked how it felt to be recognized by so many coaches.

Sorensen was the top recruit in the country and did not sign his letter of intent until April 20 of his senior year. His final choice was a battle between USC and Pepperdine.

He was swarmed with phone calls every day from both coaches and players trying to convince him to come to their schools.

“I think I knew in my heart I always wanted to go to Pepperdine, but I really liked the USC coach, so it was hard to tell him I didn’t want to go there. But eventually I did and it was definitely the right decision,” Sorensen said.

After making the decision, he felt the weights fall off his shoulders and went on to the next business matter: winning a national championship.

Two years later, in 1992, Pepperdine won the NCAA Division One National Volleyball Championship after beating Stanford in straight sets.

He secured the title for Pepperdine after hitting a service ace.

“This was probably the best match of my life,” Sorensen said. “I don’t remember the serve, per say. I went back, got ready to serve and I just got like tingles, and the next thing I remember was everyone just jumping on me.”

He was the 1990 National Freshman of the Year, a four-time All-Conference selection, and was named All-American in 1991, 1992 and 1993. He also qualified for the 1992 NCAA All-Tournament Team and the All-MPSF Anniversary Team in 2007. Sorensen led the team in kills and service aces all four seasons, and in 1990 and 1993 was the team leader in blocks.( In 2015, he was inducted into Pepperdine University Athletics Hall of Fame.)

After college, Sorensen was invited to the US Men’s Olympic team, where he played for seven years (1993-2000).

Following that run with team USA, he went on to play one season in Spain, where his team won the Spanish Cup. He had the opportunity to play more seasons in Spain but chose not to, due to the constant traveling back and forth from home.

“I just didn’t want to do the six months at home, six months abroad, six months at home, six months abroad. I was 31 at the time and was ready to move on to the next phase of my life,” Sorensen stated.

After a successful season in Spain, he began bartending.

This hobby led him to meet coach Melissa Blessington (OU Braves Men and Women head coach), as they worked at the same restaurant in Milwaukie. Since then, the two have been good friends.

Blessington was named OU’s head volleyball coach in 2014. However, there was only a women’s team at the time. Two years later, OU introduced the men’s volleyball program.

“They wanted to start the men’s program here, and asked her if she wanted to do it. She said yes, as long as she could bring in the person she wants to bring in,” Sorensen said. “So she called me and asked if I wanted to do it. I said sure.”

After such a long break from the sport, Sorensen was amazed about how the game had changed. He wishes he could have played the game as it is played now, because it’s quicker, bigger and the players are a lot more athletic. He loves how the game has developed and is still very passionate about the sport.

Should he leave OU Braves program, he sees himself coaching a little closer to home.

“I’m not looking to do anything crazy. I just want to have my own program bring in my own group of guys or girls,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen also has thoughts about partaking in the 40-and-over men’s volleyball nationals.

“I got to get back in shape. I don’t want to go there and suck,” he said.

Outside the volleyball world, Sorensen fancies comic books, fantasy football and pro wrestling. While playing abroad, wrestling was one of the few things he enjoyed watching on television and looked forward to it every Friday night. Since then, he has become an avid fan of the sport.

One of his favorite memories came when he was a senior in high school in 1989. Pepperdine’s coach, Marv Dunphy, who was also the National Men’s Volleyball coach and had just came back from winning the Olympic gold medal in 1988, visited Sorensen in school.

“I thought I was super cool. No one else knew who he really was, except for some guys on my team. But for me it was like the greatest thing ever,”  Sorensen said.

For students at OU, Coach Sorensen left some good advice:

“It’s very easy for people to say they want to be great, but not a lot of people are willing to pay the price to do it. You should always be doing things with the intent of doing better.”

Who would have ever guessed that this small school in Ottawa, Kansas would house a US Olympian? Such a small world we live in.

OU Men’s Volleyball takes on #2 Missouri Baptiste at the Wilson Field House at 6 p.m. on Feb. 6, 2018.

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