May 6, 2009


By Amy Farnum Novin

It may be hard to believe that one of the best players on the top-ranked men’s volleyball team in the nation was the last person picked for his middle school squad.

Actually, UC Irvine senior opposite Jon Steller may have never even tried the sport if he had not been afraid of the starting gun when competing in track and field.

“When I was in sixth grade, I ran track in the spring, but I was always very nervous every time the gun went off when I had to run the 800,” said Steller.  “It made me so nervous to stand up there on that line.”

Steller’s mother signed him up for volleyball camp instead, but his time in that activity was almost cut short, too.
“I walked in and there were about 60 girls and me,” said Steller.  “I was afraid of girls, and I started crying.  I said, ‘Mom, there’s no way you’re going to make me go into this camp.’  She made me go in because she had already paid for it and after that I loved it.”

In the seventh grade, Steller tried out for his school’s boys’ volleyball team, and made the squad having never played a match. 

“I found out later that I was the very last person chosen on the team,” said Steller.  “If I hadn’t made it, I probably would have stopped playing altogether.”

It’s a good thing for the Anteaters that Steller got that push he needed from his mother.  An AVCA Second-Team All-America pick in 2008, he is averaging 2.23 kills this season, and has helped lead UCI back to the NCAA semifinals for the third time in the last four years.   The Anteaters fell to Penn State in the 2006 semifinals, but won the national title in 2007.

In addition to Steller’s achievements on the volleyball court, he is an aspiring doctor and an active community servant.  Double majoring in neurobiology and the Classics, Steller has been accepted to UCI’s medical school next fall.  He became interested in medicine after taking an anatomy and physiology course in high school, and in college found it was something that was not just a potential career, but his life’s purpose.

“I’ve always had the philosophy of wanting to serve the underserved,” said Steller.  “When I was in high school, I would go on mission trips to Mexico to build houses and things like that.  I started doing research at UCI, but while the bench to bedside aspect of medicine is very important, but for some reason, it wasn’t as people-oriented and just was not for me.”

Steller combined his interest in medicine and living his life’s philosophy as a member of OrangeFISH, or the Fellowship of International Service and Health, and travels with the group to Mexico on medical mission trips.

“I thought it was fantastic that I could combine my love of service projects and gaining medical experience,” said Steller.  “There are people down there that do not have any medical benefits at all.”

UC Irvine earned the No. 1 seed in the 2009 NCAA Championship on May 7-9 hosted by Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, despite falling to USC in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship semifinals. 

“We don’t have any superstar athletes on our team like other teams on our conference,” said Steller.  “It’s a collective group effort, and we have a really deep bench.  We beat most all of our opponents as a team, unlike a lot of other programs – you don’t see that too often.”

UCI faces fourth-seeded Ohio State on May 7, following the USC-Penn State match which begins at 6 p.m. PDT.  The UC Irvine match will be broadcast live on Thursday on ESPNU at 8 p.m. PDT. The national championship match will be broadcast live on Saturday, May 9 at 4 p.m. PDT on ESPN2 and simulcast.