July 27, 2010
It's a blessing, of course, to have a pedigree like Dana Vargas does.
Both her parents were Olympians, each winning a silver medal in the 1984 Olympics, her father in water polo, her mother in volleyball. Her older sister was an All-Region selection at Long Beach State, a school ranked in the Top-25 every year she played there.
It's a curse, of course, to have enormous expectations to live up to, what with having your mother considered the best women's volleyball setter in history and to have a sister as a college standout.
Try having your accomplishments mentioned separately from what your family has done.
Some of it was self-inflicted, however.
Because of who her family is, Dana put extreme amounts of pressure on herself to perform. During her first two seasons at UCSB, she allowed a lot of doubt to creep into her mind.
They were the first two losing seasons in the history of UCSB volleyball, the first time a Kathy Gregory-coached team didn't make it to the NCAA Tournament. And Vargas was the setter, the director on the floor.
"That hurt really badly," said Vargas, a sociology major with a 3.19 cumulative GPA. "Knowing especially that it was my first season and I played in every game and knowing it all could have been my fault.
"My sophomore year was the hardest. I was no longer a freshman, so I had no excuses and we were less successful than my freshman year. The hardest part was that I was stuck. I wasn't an upperclassman who could lead a team and I wasn't new anymore."
She even considered going elsewhere, anything to get to a different situation where she could get out of the shadow cast by her over-achieving family.
"I would call my mom and complain," Vargas said. "My parents never gave me a pity party when sometimes I wanted them to. It was a blessing in disguise. And, the grass isn't always greener."
Swallowing her pride, Dana made a request to her mother, one she never would have when she was a freshman or even as a sophomore.
She asked for help. She asked her mother to make her better.
"I knew that if I wanted the team to get better I had to get better," she said. "That's why I wanted my mom to help me. I was at a stage where I was just plateau-ing. I didn't feel like I could compete with the All-American setters. I had to look at myself first and then help my teammates get better."
That was Vargas' first big step toward being a leader. It didn't go unnoticed.
"Her success didn't come easily," says her coach, Kathy Gregory. "Instead of playing the blame game, she didn't make any excuses. She looked within herself to get better."
While Vargas always had the attitude and charisma to be a leader, taking this step is what made her stand out to Gregory and her teammates. Vargas and the Gauchos stayed in Santa Barbara last summer to workout and practice together in the hopes of getting back to the tournament.
Then, with the help of her mother, Vargas embraced the leadership role. A tremendous competitor - she remembers throwing a fit when she lost a game of Monopoly in fourth grade - Vargas now had the mind-set and help to take the Gauchos back to the NCAA Tournament.
"Dana is an unbelievable leader," Gregory said. "People listen to her; she speaks up and guides the team. But, she is tactful of how she presents the information. She knows how to communicate to everyone on the team. She leads by example, but she also is the first one to speak up and let the team know their responsibilities."
Says Vargas, a team captain for the 2010 season, "I try to bring a positive and personal relationship with everyone on the team. As a setter I have to be the glue and hold everyone together when things are not going right."
Statistically, her junior season wasn't the apex, but she became one of the most decorated setters in a single season at UCSB. Named to the All-Big West First Team, Vargas was also a First Team All-Region selection and an All-American honorable mention pick.
Finally, even with her mom's help and her sister's support - Nicole would don UCSB gear at games despite her Long Beach State ties - Dana began to establish her own name and creep out from her family's shadow.
"I try and lead by example," Vargas said. "I hold myself responsible for the mistakes we make on and off the court. I don't look for excuses. It comes with the way my parents brought me up. I think that's key because then other people won't have any excuses."
Recently, Dana sat down to answer a few questions about herself.
1. What are your favorite things to do when you're not playing
I like to go to the beach, go to the movies, go out to eat and my guilty pleasure is Facebook and musicals.
2. If you were on a deserted island and could only bring three things, what would they be?
Sunscreen, my yellow lab Lucky and my laptop.
3. What is your favorite class you've taken at UCSB?
Sociology 170 - deviant behavior.
4. Do you have any role models?
My dad, Joe.
5. What is the best part about waking up in Santa Barbara every day?
Definitely hearing the ocean from my window because I live oceanside now which is extremely exciting.
6. What is your favorite TV show?
America's Funniest Home Videos and Grey's Anatomy.
7. What will you miss most about life at UCSB after you graduate?
I'll miss being close to everybody and close to my friends and being within walking distance of doing whatever I need to do.
8. What actor would play you in a movie about your life?
Sandra Bullock. I think she's so funny and pretty.
9. What is your favorite professional sports team?
Definitely the Lakers. I love the Lakers. And I really like baseball, but I can never seem to choose between the Dodgers and the Angels.
10. What is your favorite movie?
Remember the Titans. I can watch that over and over again. Also, The Sound of Music and Gone With the Wind.
11. If a book were written about your life, what would be the title?
Big Shoes to Fill: Making My Own Name.
12. Do you have any pre-game rituals?
I do my hair first and then I put on mascara so I don't look like a 12-year old.
13. What is your favorite spot on campus?
The Intercollegiate Athletics Building.
14. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
I definitely need a beach house. A beachfront mansion in Southern California.
15. What is your favorite UCSB sport to watch (besides your own)?
Men's water polo because less is more.
16. Who is your favorite author? Favorite book?
My favorite book is "Driven From Within" by Michael Jordan. I don't have a favorite author.
17. What is one thing about you that most people do not know?
I really like animals, especially big ones. If I could I would be a veterinarian. Or a Broadway star.
18. Is there a motto that you live by?
"These young guys are playing checkers. I'm out there playing chess." - Kobe Bryant.
19. In one word, how would you describe UCSB women's volleyball?
20. What is your main goal for the 2010 season?
To make it to the Sweet 16 and maybe even better.
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