Story Courtesy of Gordon Brunskill
BRONXVILLE, N.Y. – Ivan Marquez has spent better than two decades focused on men’s volleyball, how to make it better and how to get more attention, undaunted by the many obstacles.
“I feel like Don Quixote fighting the windmills,” he said. “But I will die knowing that our product was a really good product.”
Finances are a constant issue on college campuses, what is both spent and earned, but for Marquez, it boils down to a simple formula: The sport will flourish if it can draw more fans.
“We need to get together and find out what’s wrong with our product, what’s right with our product, because we have to start packing the gyms,” Marquez said. “We’ll see how easier the conversations are about funding and all that nonsense when the pendulum sways and public wants your product.”
Marquez will continue to advocate for the progress of men’s volleyball, but he will no longer do so as the EIVA’s leader. Marquez stepped down last week after 15 years guiding the conference as its executive director. Russ Yurk has been unanimously approved as the new executive director.
One of the biggest challenges facing Yurk will be matching the flair and enthusiasm Marquez brought to the conference.
“One word comes to mind when you say Ivan Marquez, and that’s ‘passion,’” said Ron Shayka, EIVA president and George Mason Senior Associate Athletic Director of Finance and Operations. “You deal with people that have passion and sometimes it gets misdirected or misplaced, but Ivan’s passion was never misplaced or misguided. He always kept the passion and the focus on his goals and the league’s goals.”
After the conference had previously been led essentially by its coaches, putting Marquez at the helm of the EIVA after his Concordia College dropped its men’s volleyball program proved to be a stroke of good fortune not only for the conference but also for the men’s college game nationally.
“He was truly a type of person in an age when the EIVA needed that person,” Penn State coach Mark Pavlik said, noting Marquez’s business background from a stretch working at Bloomingdale’s department store also helped. “Ivan was the first person we had that could take a step back and not just see the big picture, but understand where we wanted to go with the big picture. I have no idea where we would be without Ivan.”
Pavlik’s program dominated the EIVA, winning 17 straight league championships and automatic berths into the National Championship tournament. But slowly other programs began to chip away at the dominance, and two of the last three seasons saw George Mason and Harvard emerge with the EIVA’s trophy and national tournament bid.
“Ivan’s been one of those people that never lost sight of our initial goals and that was to prepare our league champion for the best shot at winning a national championship,” Shayka said. “We kind of came together with that goal and it laid the groundwork for a lot of the decisions we made and the direction we went. We tried to couch everything with the question of, ‘Is this ultimately going to help our league and our champion perform the best at the end of the year when we were hoping to be a national champion?’
“He never accepted excuses. He knew that, were the other schools to catch up to Penn State, it wasn’t about bringing Penn State down, it was bringing the rest up. It helped determine how he would lead and decisions he would make, but he constantly challenged everybody, Penn State included, to get better.”
Marquez’s success also has been noticed nationally.
“Being the commissioner of a single-sport league in college athletics may be the loneliest job on the planet,” AVCA executive director Kathy DeBoer said. “Ivan leads the EIVA with passion, persistence, and integrity regardless of whether anyone was watching or not. His character is unmatched and his love for our sport unbounded.”
The way Marquez sought improvement in the EIVA and in the men’s game also has been on display in his greatest personal battle, fending off prostate cancer for the past 13 years despite being told he was already at Stage 4 with the cancer metastasizing to other parts of his body.
“He’s managed to keep alive more than 10 years when he was supposed to die the first year,” said former UCLA coach Al Scates, a close friend of Marquez and men’s college volleyball’s most successful coach. “That shows you the kind of fortitude this man has.”
Marquez’s treatments led to a strong association for the EIVA with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, with annual fund-raising efforts for the research facility in New York.
The native of Puerto Rico also was the athletic director at Concordia for two decades until he retired in 2016, and in 2017 was honored as the NCAA Division II Under Armor Athletic Director of the Year. He has had a number of innovative ideas either as a coach or administrator – some have proved more fruitful than others. Once, Marquez invited Scates’ Bruins to Concordia for matches with his Clippers team and Lewis and had an unusual scoring system. Instead of playing to 25- or 30-point sets, the match was played to 100, broken into four quarters like football. That idea didn’t last beyond that weekend.
But other concepts have stuck, like creating the EIVA’s Hall of Fame – Marquez also was a member of the first induction class in 2012 – using professional linespeople at matches just like the referees, having pregame protocol consistent for all teams and trying to make the conference championship tournaments memorable experiences for student-athletes.
“In making those things happen, we were way ahead of the other leagues at the time,” Pavlik said. “Now they’re copying what we’ve done.”
Both Pavlik and Shayka broke into laughter recounting one of Marquez’s less-than-stellar moments a few years ago. When the Nittany Lions won yet another tournament title and team captains were introduced to be handed the trophy, Marquez playfully backed away from the student-athletes, then made a quick shift in direction. Marquez then tripped, falling to the floor with the trophy breaking on impact.
Pavlik and Shayka were briefly concerned Marquez had been injured until he popped back up laughing.
“I think his first words when he got up were, ‘Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!’” Shayka said. “That will go down in history as my favorite (story).”
Marquez also felt immense pride during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when he saw Penn State’s Matt Anderson, Max Holt and Aaron Russell all in the starting lineup en route to Team USA earning a bronze medal.
“That makes my hair stand up,” Marquez said. “I have a chemical reaction. I am like, ‘Wow!’ You have no idea the sense of pride when I’m watching that.”
Marquez is never discouraged by the challenges – with his health or the sport – but is always looking for ways to get the most out of what he had.
“The limitations and obstacles that were in place for men’s volleyball were real,” Shayka said. “We weren’t the high-profile sport, we weren’t the ones getting a lot of attention, but that was never an excuse not to keep fighting and not to keep looking for that next small victory.”
Marquez got to appreciate some of the many lives he has affected and the how he has assisted the sport in early May when UCLA hosted the national championship, and Marquez got to spend a few days with his many friends and colleagues.
“What a joy to be in that room,” he said.
It was a show of appreciation from the many who have benefitted from Marquez’s battles with those windmills, fighting the good fight to help men’s volleyball grow and flourish.
“The years disappear,” Marquez said. “The good survives.”
Quotes From Around the League:
Brian Baise, Harvard:
“Thanks, Ivan, for all you’ve done for the EIVA and for our sport. Your vision, dedication, and generosity have influenced all of us. I look forward to staying in touch about men’s volleyball (and other matters) in the years ahead!”
Mike Rumbaugh, Saint Francis (Pa.):
“It was great that the EIVA was on the cutting edge by hiring a conference commissioner when know other league had one. Ivan was the man for the job. It was tough to find an administrator with the same passion for our sport as a coach. As a former coach, now Athletic Director, Ivan had that passion we were looking for.”
Jay Hosack, George Mason:
“Although I am relatively new to the EIVA, I am aware of the countless hours he put in, and the steadfast determination to make the conference stand above the rest. He was so stubborn when it came to how we would be looked upon by everyone else in the country. His vision became a reality, and we continue to this day to uphold his values and standards that will last for generations to come.”
Mark Pavlik, Penn State:
“He was somebody with a vision, knew where he wanted to go, knew what he wanted his team to achieve. … He always believed in what the EIVA could be. Maybe one of the best things we had ever done as a league is to talk to him and convince him to become executive director, commissioner, whatever term you want to use. Now you have somebody with that drive and that personality to say, ‘OK, how do we make this league better? How do we professionalize it?’”
Greg Walker, Sacred Heart:
“I do not think there are enough words to summarize the contributions that Ivan, his leadership and his vision have had on the EIVA and its direct impact to men’s volleyball.
I grew up watching volleyball in the EIVA, first coaching job after college was at an EIVA school at Juniata College in its final years of membership and now am coaching at an EIVA member institution and have seen the positive changes that he has directed and changes the landscape for years to come.
It has been an honor to be a part of his tenure and impacted by him as a person and his life’s work. Not only with the work he has done but he is living proof of choosing your passions in life and choosing to live every day to its fullest.
I wish him nothing but the best and will miss his guidance. Having hand-picked our new commissioner, I know that we are in great hands as we turn a new page and Ivan will always be the foundation, the rock and the pioneer of the EIVA.”
Sam Shweisky, Princeton:
I first met Ivan Marquez in the mid 1990’s when I was playing in the Empire States Games. From 1994-1996 I was a member of the New York City Empire States Games Scholastic Boys Team while Ivan was coaching the Hudson Valley Men’s Open Team. Or maybe he was managing it. The truth is I am not sure what his role was exactly but he was always around, always yelling at someone in Spanish and always encouraging those around him to be better. In the summer of 1998 when I went off to attend Vassar College, located in the Hudson Valley I was eligible to try out for the Hudson Valley men’s open team. Tony Bonia of New Paltz fame was the coach, but Ivan was the manager. Ivan hosted us for practices at his Concordia gym and was always around yelling words of encouragement, generally in Spanish.
The following spring of 1999 we squared off against Ivan’s Concordia Clippers in an EIVA league sanctioned match. I was a sophomore outside hitter for the perennial DIII powerhouse Vassar College, but not quite ready for what was in store for me. The EIVA had realigned in the summer of 1999 into geographical rejoins to accommodate all of its members and Vassar would play against Concordia, Penn State, Princeton and several other top programs that would eventually find themselves in the upper echelon Tait division when the league would restructure based on win/loss record. But for now here we were up against Ivan Marquez and his multi-national all-star team from across the globe. The team featured a Cayman Island player who made jumping look effortless, an Egyptian national team player who was built like George Romaine, and my personal favorite Alvaro Valesco – the smooth Columbian National team setter who ran the team like an army general and set pure gold every time he touched the ball.
Somehow my pimple faced Vassar team of bio-chemistry studying nerds ended up winning the first set against Ivan’s international all-star team. As we switched sides, both teams a bit confused as to what had just happened, I passed by Ivan. He smiled at me and said “Sigue papi sigue. Nuca se sabes lo que puede pasar si sigue peleando” which translates to “keep going papi, you never know what can happen if you keep fighting.” I was a bit surprised that with his team down 0-1 he was encouraging me/us to keep fighting. As a 20 year old I didn’t get it. He wanted us to play well to help push his team because he wanted his team to be great. He wanted the league to be great. For Ivan Marquez it has always been about making the EIVA the best conference in the country.
When I came back to the EIVA as Princeton’s head coach in the summer of 2009 Ivan’s enthusiasm hadn’t diminished in the least. If anything it has increased. Determined to make the EIVA the best conference in the country (if not the world) Ivan pushed every coach and every program to new heights. Ivan always told it like it is. I remember at the 2016 league meeting he went around the room congratulating different coaches on the good season they had and when he got to me he switched to Spanish to berate me for the poor year we had had. I like to think he switched to Spanish so perhaps others in the room wouldn’t get the full scope of how bad he was bashing me, but I think he may have just flipped over to enjoy the wider array of curse words Spanish would avail to him in his onslaught. He was passionate and he expected the most from all of us. He pushed us to be better always. The EIVA would not be where it is today without the decades of hard work poured in from the heart of Ivan Marquez. I know we are all better off for everything he has done for the EIVA and for the volleyball community at large.
So Ivan I say to you: Gracias papi, you taught us well. You can be sure we will all sigue peleando…
Michael Iandolo, Charleston (W. Va.):
"What he has done to not only help further the EIVA, but men's volleyball in general, is something that can only be respected and applauded. We are grateful for his work over the years!"
Dr. Bren Stevens, Charleston (W. Va.) Director of Athletics:
“I have not yet had the pleasure to meet Ivan in-person. However, I feel a real connection to him. Ivan was instrumental in assisting our university with meeting the criteria set forth for membership in the EIVA. I admire Ivan for his passion for the sport of volleyball and his commitment to growing opportunities for men to compete. It is evident that Ivan is a man of high character and his friendship is something that I cherish.”