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Loyola Hitter Strives to Maintain Family Legacy of Excellence in Volleyball

By Justin Breen | April 25, 2014 6:40am
 Loyola University Chicago senior outside hitter Dainis Berzins comes from a prestigious volleyball family.
Dainis Berzins
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ROGERS PARK — It seems Loyola University Chicago senior Dainis Berzins was destined to become an outside hitter.

His father, Aldis, won a gold medal for Team USA in the 1984 Olympic games playing the position. His mother, Mara, was an outside hitter at the University of Maryland. And Berzins' older brothers, Mik and Kris, dominated from the same spot on the court.

"I guess the position stuck," said Dainis, 22, whose Ramblers host Lewis University on Saturday in the MIVA tournament championship game.

Saturday's winner earns automatic entry into the NCAA tournament May 1-3 at Loyola's Gentile Arena, although even with a loss, the No. 1 Ramblers (26-1) should receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs, which pits the country's top six teams.

 The Berzins brothers (from left): Kris, Mik and Dainis
The Berzins brothers (from left): Kris, Mik and Dainis
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Berzins family

"I feel like all the stars have aligned, and it's a great scenario for us to host the [NCAA] tournament," said Dainis, whose Ramblers lost in their first trip to the Final Four last year.

An NCAA crown would make him the second member of his family to claim college volleyball's ultimate title. Mik, 23, won the 2011 championship while suiting up for Ohio State.

All three Berzins brothers said they were driven by their parents' success in addition to their own.

"I always felt pressure to live up to the achievements," said Mik Berzins, now a graduate assistant coach with Oregon State's women's volleyball program.

And there was always competition between the brothers. Family volleyball matches, including on the San Diego beaches, consisted of Dainis and his father facing Mik and Kris. Dainis' older siblings never took it easy on the baby of the family. Even then, Mara said Dainis exhibited "no fear."

"Being the youngest, Dainis definitely took his lumps early on ... but he always kept coming back and always fought hard," said Kris, 26, a former Rambler and current assistant with the team.

Said Aldis: "Dainis always looked up to his big brothers — and they would take advantage of him. Now Dainis can look down on them being the tallest."

Indeed, at 6-foot-5, Dainis is now the tallest member of the family. The apex of his leaps reaches 11 feet, 7 inches, and he has used his height, vertical jump and power to accumulate 97 kills this season.

Dainis also said his family taught him humility. His father keeps his gold medal in his underwear and socks drawer. He also told his boys to never take their talent for granted and to always dive for every ball on every point.

Torey Darin, the Ramblers senior opposite hitter who has been Dainis' roommate since sophomore year, said Dainis never gives up on a play.

"We put him in, and he’s going to fight for every point," Darin said. "He feels he has to prove something to everyone else and that he’s worthy of being in his family. He just kind of fuels himself with that."

Shane Davis, who played at Loyola and has been the Ramblers' head coach for 11 seasons, said he's never seen a family as close as the Berzinses. Aldis and Mara, who reside in Maryland, come to many of Dainis' matches.

"It makes my job so much easier to be able to have a family like the Berzins family involved in your program," Davis said. "The support they give the program, the support they give their kids, the support they give their athletes. Those families just don’t come around all the time."

The family bond will be on full display in June, where all four Berzins men will be traveling to Latvia to participate on the same American Latvian Association volleyball team. Aldis, whose parents are from Latvia, will serve as head coach with all three sons playing.

It will be part of a big summer for Dainis, who's in the process of applying to medical schools, including Loyola's and several on the East Coast. A biology major with a 3.6 GPA, Dainis hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon.

"I've always found it interesting being around sports and seeing injuries, and this would be a good area where you could help people and fix issues," Dainis said.

But first come the MIVA and NCAA tourneys. And Dainis is beyond focused to bring his family more volleyball glory.

"We're just excited we're going to have it on our home court, and hopefully we can take advantage of that and get it done," he said.

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