Eric Arriaga wanted to go to medical school after graduating from Stanford University in 2015.
When he earned his degree in cellular and developmental biology, he was going to fill the gap year between his undergraduate studies and medical school by coaching volleyball. Instead, he embarked on a six-year journey that led him to an assistant coaching job at UTA.
“I fell in love with it, and I didn’t think I would because I didn’t know much about it,” Arriaga said.
The 28-year-old Aurora, Colorado, native was hired onto head coach J.T. Wenger’s staff in February before the COVID-19 pandemic closed campuses around the nation, forcing many into a virtual world of learning. The Mavericks completed two weeks’ worth of practices after Arriaga’s arrival, then moved their meetings to an online format for the oncoming quarantine.
To Arriaga, holding those team meetings over Zoom was beneficial because they allowed the new players to get to know him as a person.
“When you’re coaching on the court, it’s a lot more business-y, it’s a lot more game time strategy,” Arriaga said. “By having the Zoom meetings I think it allowed them — and me too — to get to know each other in more of a personal sense.”
Before Arriaga made his way to UTA, he served as an assistant coach at Loyola University Maryland from 2017 to 2019 and George Mason University in 2016. His coaching career officially started at Stanford, where he was a student assistant coach from 2013 to 2015.
Arriaga first connected with Wenger in 2015 when he became the technical coordinator for the University of Colorado’s volleyball team, where Wenger was an associate head coach.
That connection and a previous trip to College Park Center swayed Arriaga’s interest toward UTA. In 2018, the UTA volleyball team hosted matches against three programs in the Maverick Classic. One of those programs was Arriaga’s Loyola Maryland Greyhounds.
The Mavericks picked up a 3-1 win over the Greyhounds.
“Once I kind of got a taste of that, I decided that it was something I wanted to be a part of,” Arriaga said. “I got the fortune and misfortune of losing to the Mavericks a while back. Ever since then, I kind of wanted to be here.”
Arriaga learned about scouting and implementing statistics into game plans when he worked with Wenger at Colorado. With the Mavericks, Arriaga prepares game plans, focuses on recruiting and works with the team on its defensive and passing aspects of its game.
Having a young coach with experiences like Arriaga’s is a positive for the team, Wenger said. His passion and energy for volleyball and teaching others to play the game makes him a good fit for the program and the Sun Belt Conference.
In May, Arriaga received a 2020 Thirty Under 30 award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association. The award was originally created in 2009 to recognize up-and-coming coaching talent at all levels of the sport.
“We’re fortunate to have a coach that’s receiving national recognition, and he’s done a nice job everywhere he’s been,” Wenger said.
Even though they haven’t been around each other in person for long, the assistant coach’s youthful energy has already made its presence known to members of the team. Sophomore defensive specialist Alli Wells said Arriaga will sometimes use TikTok references when he’s around the team, saying things like, “It’s the blocking for me.”
“[He] fits in with our late teens, early 20s vibe,” Wells said. “He’s easy to connect with because he knows everything that goes on in our kind of world right now and he understands it.”
As his coaching career moves forward, Arriaga has high expectations for himself. One day, he’d like to be the head volleyball coach at Colorado because of its proximity to home.
For now, he wants to help the Mavericks take the next step after a strong showing and a quarterfinals appearance in the National Invitational Volleyball Championship last season.
“I want us to make the NCAA tournament. That’s something that I really want to do while I’m here,” Arriaga said.