In five short years (six if one counts the aborted 2020 beach season), Armen Zakarian has built the West Valley beach and indoor volleyball program into one of the nation's community college elites. After a pair of program-under-construction years (2015-2016), Zakarian's indoor teams have made three straight playoff appearances, have won a Coast Conference championship (2019) and finished fifth (2018) and 12th (2019) in the state. In the same time frame, his beach squads have gone 19-11 in the ultra-competitive Coast, won a Coast title (2019) and had their #1 2019 pair (Mapu Sekona and Kaylin Henderson) finish second in the CCCAA State Pairs Championship. He was named the 2019 Coast Conference Indoor and Beach Coach of the Year.
While wins and losses tell the story on the surface, Zakarian emphasizes academics and life lessons as the cornerstone of his program. His athletes are consistently at the top of the West Valley and CCCAA team GPA charts and dozens of Viking players have transferred to four-year programs to continue their academic and athletic careers.
Prior to West Valley, Zakarian spent two years as the top assistant with Division 1 men's volleyball powerhouse, UC Irvine. While at UCI, he coached five AVCA All-Americans and helped guide the Anteaters to the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation regular season and tournament championship, as well as a birth in the NCAA Final Four in 2015. Zakarian came to UC Irvine after serving as men's volleyball Head Coach at Santa Barbara City College from 2010-2013. In 2011, he was voted Western State Conference Coach of the Year. In just three years with the program, Zakarian helped 11 players earn All-Conference distinction and eight players transfer to Division I-II programs. He also served as Associate Head Coach for the SBCC women's volleyball team. In three years with the Lady Vaqueros, the squad earned three consecutive state playoff births and captured two WSC-North titles, an overall league mark of 27-3, and a perfect 10-0 record in 2012.
Zakarian has gained the reputation as a formidable recruiter who is able to bring women of character and athletic prowess to Saratoga.
Q&A with Coach Armen Zakarian
What is your favorite West Valley memory?
My favorite West Valley memory was our 2019 Costa Rica trip. Our team spent 7 days traveling the beaches and rainforests of Costa Rica, learning about its rich history, and competing against their top club and national teams both indoor and on the beach. It was a truly remarkable experience that none of us will ever forget. What really stands out in my head wasn't the actual trip itself, but rather the culmination of several years of hard work our young women put into building our program into one of the state's elite. It was our indoor volleyball team upsetting rival Cabrillo to earn a trip to the CCCAA State Championships in 2018. It was our beach volleyball team earning its first ever Coast Conference Championship in 2019. It was our top pair of Mapu Sekona and Kaylin Henderson finishing as State Runner-Up in the Beach Volleyball Pairs Championship that same year. It was our indoor volleyball team following up their 2018 run with its first Coast Conference Championship in 2019. More importantly, it was watching as our athletes finished with the highest GPA of all Viking teams for three straight semesters. Being a part of that process is what made Costa Rica the trip that it was. I'm grateful for that.
Why should a recruit consider your West Valley team to be their first/best option?
For an incoming athlete who is looking to pursue volleyball in college, they would usually look first at the success of a program, or its state ranking, or how many wins they have in conference. All those things are great, but our job at West Valley is to make athletes better in a multitude of fashions. We don't just train the athlete element; we aim to train the human element as well. If you like to have things easy and not be pushed to be a better version of yourself, we are probably not for you.
Recruits should consider West Valley if they are tired of wondering how they can truly push beyond their current capabilities. We train year-round with academics, indoor volleyball, beach volleyball, as well as strength & conditioning. More importantly, we train you to become a better version of yourself so that you are ready to dominate the next chapter in your life. If a recruit is curious to push further, they should look in our direction.
What do you like best about working for West Valley?
That is easy. It's the people. I love the students. I love the faculty. I love the players on my indoor and beach volleyball teams. I love the students that I teach each day in activities courses, in the Kinesiology lectures, and everyone from our custodial support staff to our high-ranking faculty. The people make West Valley what it is. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.
In one sentence, please describe what you expect from your players.
I expect you to fall in love with the process of becoming great in all aspects of your life, no matter how daunting a task that may be.
In one sentence, please describe your coaching style.
I'm a teacher first, and I won't just give you the answer, but will find as many ways to guide you to it no matter how tough it might seem or how long it may take.
Who are your major influences in life and in sports?
My parents are a huge influence in my life, as they have both taught me different lessons on what it means to be successful. In the sports world, Michael Jordan was always my greatest role model. His relentless pursuit of greatness is admirable. On the volleyball side, I would have to say USA legend Karch Kiraly and the Brazilian international superstar Giba are my two greatest influences. The passion and respect they have for the game of volleyball combined with the attention to detail on the smallest of things is what makes them such a big influence on who I am and continually strive to be.
When a player graduates from WVC, what do want them to take with them from their experiences on your team?
When you graduate from West Valley, you should be able to walk away knowing that you have a lifetime support system no matter where you are and what you end up doing. Whether it is a letter of recommendation from a coach as you look to pursue your master's degree after college, or a fellow teammates couch to sleep on when you visit another state on a college budget, we are forever connected on our individual journeys. That connection will always stay with you and is what makes our program so special.