By Marc Raimondi
Karl Pierre dropped his head in disappointment. The New York City men’s open volleyball team had just lost in the Empire State Games gold-medal match to Western and silver just wasn’t going to satisfy the team’s coach.
Looking on from the nearby bleachers was Pierre’s wife, Pascale Lubin, and daughter, Ariel Pierre. They knew just what they were in for.
“If you lose,” Ariel said, “the whole family feels it.”
The Pierres aren’t your run-of-the-mill family from Bellerose. They live volleyball.
Karl Pierre, 48, is a longtime coach and player, who played in his first international volleyball match at the age of 16 with the Haitian national team. He was 17 when he played in his first volleyball world championship with Haiti and played Division I volleyball at Rutgers-Newark. Pierre is one of the most respected youth volleyball coaches on the East Coast, with the Creole Big Apple club organization, and coached the now-defunct Queens College men’s volleyball team.
Lubin, 43, was a star at Newtown HS, the best player coming out of New York City at the time. She was a standout at Queens College, where she now coaches the women’s volleyball team.
That’s a lot to live up to for their two daughters, Ariel and Kiara. They absolutely had to play volleyball, Lubin says with a laugh.
“There was no choice in the matter,” she said.
But the game was never forced, Ariel said, it just came naturally. Ariel Pierre will begin her sophomore season playing volleyball at Temple University in September. As a freshman, she played in 34 of the team’s 36 matches, seeing time at libero, setter and defensive specialist.
“There’s so many things that she just knows because she’s seen it and lived it for so many years,” said Temple coach Bob Bertucci, who once teamed with Karl Pierre on a club team. “Her overall skill level is very high.”
That’s one of the advantages of having a volleyball family. A top-notch coach — and a player who competed at an elite level — is always just a phone call away. Lubin and Pierre have tried to coach their daughters in organized volleyball as little as possible, though, so as not to create a conflict of interest. There are some disadvantages, too, though — like high expectations.
“It’s definitely tough,” Ariel Pierre said. “My dad’s a great player, my mom’s a great player. They come together and have kids, you expect them to be great volleyball players, too.”
Ariel, who played at St. Francis Prep and was a two-time TimesLedger All-Queens Player of the Year, thinks it could be even harder for her sister. Kiara, 12, she said, is more of an intellectual and laid back.
“I feel bad for her, because I felt bad for myself when I was younger,” Ariel said. “I feel like everyone has eyes on her, because of who her parents are.”
That pressure sometimes comes from their parents, too. So do expectations. Karl Pierre has a very humanistic approach to the game. He doesn’t see volleyball as just another sport.
“It’s the whole picture,” he said. “I don’t like when people look at volleyball as just volleyball. It’s a way of life. It teaches you discipline. It teaches you how to get through different situations and how to deal with people. It teaches you sacrifice.”
Pierre is, admittedly, the more cerebral of him and his wife. Ariel said her father is the “explainer” and her mother is the “pusher.”
“She’s very much in your face,” Pierre said of his wife. “She’s not going to let you get away until you get it done.”
As volleyball intensive as their family is, it isn’t what they’re all about. The Pierres don’t even own a volleyball and they stress academics and the arts in addition to sports. Ariel plays the viola and the piano and Kiara is an excellent student.
“My kids are well-rounded,” Lubin said.
So, it would be common to see Pierre helping his daughters with school work or Lubin talking to them about the perils of teenage boys. It’s not all volleyball, all the time.
But it is close.
One of their two dogs, A-Train, has developed quite the skill when he gets tossed a volleyball.
“He tries to bite the ball and it bounces up,” Ariel said.
Perhaps the Pierres have a budding libero on their hands. It shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Marc Raimondi by e-mail at [email protected] or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.