Dan Rhodes has come quite a long way, from the quiet town of Chesapeake, Va. to the west coast as a member of the Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team, where he hopes to help the Matadors achieve postseason success.
Rhodes was born on March 5, 1984. He was amongst four brothers and one sister and is also a cousin of Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry.
Rhodes did not start playing competitive volleyball until his freshman year at Western Branch High School in Virginia. Rhodes competed in several sports at Western Branch such as football, basketball, track and field, swimming, soccer and tennis. He wanted to concentrate on football, but his mother persuaded him to give volleyball a try.
“It wasn’t the sport I really wanted to play, but she said I had to try it out one year,” Rhodes said of volleyball. “I tried it out and I kind of got hooked on it and I stayed with it.”
Rhodes actually did play football during his final year in high school, where he graduated from in 2002. He moved to Virginia Beach shortly after his father, who at the time was working in computer information in the Navy, moved to Saudi Arabia for a year.
Rhodes was recruited by George Mason and Ohio State as well as Rutgers and Ball State, but chose CSUN mainly because of the level of competition in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Rhodes had also expressed interest in attending Penn State, but a bad experience between one of his brothers and a Nittany Lions coach during a junior tournament in the summer of 2000 discouraged him.
“My brother went to say hi to him and (the coach) pretty much dissed him and blew him off and wasn’t respectful,” Rhodes said. “My brother thought the world of him and wanted to say hi and I saw that, and to me, it was like I didn’t care if they offered me anything, I didn’t want to go to Penn State.”
CSUN head coach Jeff Campbell first saw Rhodes compete in the junior Olympics tournament and came away impressed.
“He played very well in the match that I saw him,” Campbell said. “I knew at that point this is the kind of player that we want to have on the team.”
For Rhodes, there was more to adjust to than just the college lifestyle. He also had to adjust to the differences in lifestyle of living in California.
“We definitely don’t have six-lane highways,” Rhodes said. “Where I’m from, we have one and two.”
One of the things Rhodes appreciates about California is the opportunity to travel and see different things.
“The beaches here are just beautiful,” Rhodes said. “Some of the national parks are really gorgeous. I’m an outdoors kind of guy and I like traveling a lot, so California definitely offers a bigger range.”
Though Rhodes was a freshman in 2004, he never intimidated playing as one.
“They don’t want you thinking just because you’re a freshman, you can make mistakes,” Rhodes said. “I’m thinking I’m just one of the guys that needs to play this game and help my team win.”
Rhodes had a solid freshman season in 2004, finishing second on the team in kills with 299 while averaging 4 a game, which was 20th in the nation. Rhodes had several outstanding performances in his freshman campaign, including a season-high 31 kills in a five-match upset of fourth-ranked Pepperdine on Feb. 13 and 25 kills in a five-game loss to UCLA on Jan. 10. Rhodes also had 19 kills in a four-match upset of No. 2 Hawaii on March 5, his birthday.
Rhodes credits fifth-year senior Scott Arnerson for helping him get through his first year as a Matador.
“He was a great mentor,” Rhodes said of Arnerson. “He helped me a lot, told me to settle down, be wise and take some things, learn from them and build on that and he supported me.”
Rhodes also credits another fifth-year senior, Ty Trambile, a setter on the 2004 team, for encouraging him and boosting his confidence during his first year at CSUN.
“He was short. He was told he would never be a setter in college because of his height,” Rhodes said of Trambile. “But his heart and determination just to play the game, he had such great passion, no matter if you were down 20, he would never know.”
Rhodes’ sophomore season was a short one, as he sat out all but nine games after falling and breaking his hand in a game against UCLA.
Rhodes, however, has comeback this season. He had a team-high 381 kills while averaging 4.33 a game. Rhodes also had a career-high 41 kills against defending national champion Pepperdine, then ranked No. 2 at the time, at Firestone Fieldhouse on Feb. 18.
“I was swinging away like crazy,” Rhodes said of his performance against the Waves. “I felt like if I push more and more, that we would have a better shot of winning and beating Pepperdine.”
Rhodes’ progress during his three years at CSUN, as well as his recovery from his hand injury, has not gone unnoticed by Campbell.
“He’s done great,” Campbell said. “We’re really pleased with his development. It’s especially good since last year he didn’t really get to play much.”
Rhodes, a sociology major and a business minor, has one more year of eligibility left at CSUN, and has expressed interest in playing professionally for a year or two after he finishes up at CSUN.
“A couple of guys on our team, like Nils Neilson and Ty (Trambile) did and Joe Narchi did and they’re having a blast,” Rhodes said.
CSUN is currently in fifth place in the MPSF with a record of 16-8, 11-7. The Matadors have also shown a flair for the dramatic, as CSUN has rallied from two-game deficits four times and are 2-2 in those situations.
The Matadors clinched its fifth straight MPSF tournament berth on March 30 with a five-game win over UC Santa Barbara. It will now try to build on the success it established last season, when it defeated Stanford in the opening round, then upset UCLA in five games at Pauley Pavilion before losing to Pepperdine in the semifinals.
“It’s all about team and how we can push hard until the end of this semester and really make a run for a national championship,” Rhodes said. “Because we believe we can actually win.”
Ivan Yeo can be reached at email@example.com.