Top vball coach resigns at St. Francis

Dave Gambelin watched intently as Olympic ski champion Picabo Street completed her last competitive run ever at the Winter Olympics in February. The St. Francis (Mountain View, Calif.) girls volleyball coach expected her to be overcome with emotion. But Street was matter of fact about the end of her career. I'm ready to turn the chapter, she said. Ready for a new phase of my life. So, too, is Gambelin. California's most successful prep coach yesterday resigned his post, effective at year end.

Gambelin, 38, is leaving St. Francis, where he is a history teacher, to become a stockbroker. "I have to make more money than my wife at some point in my life," he joked.

The coach, who compiled a 437-39 record in 13 seasons with the Lancers and a record six state titles, said that Street's words motivated him to turn the page on his life, one that has included a fierce battle with testicular cancer. Becoming a stockbroker has been a lifelong dream.

"When I first went into teaching, I started taking classes at night to be a stockbroker," he explained. "I still love coaching but you only go around once and, after cancer, I realize I better go after some of my dreams because you never know."

The cancer struck the Northern California native three years ago, only six months after he married his wife, Kris, a former West Coast Conference Player of the Year at setter for Santa Clara. "I felt guilty about it, even though it wasn't my fault," he recalled. "I told my wife I was damaged goods and wouldn't blame her if she left."

Kris didn't leave and together they took on the disease that threatened their happiness. He had two surgeries and was on chemotherapy for three and one-half months. And not just any chemo, but "young man's chemo," which consisted of the drugs eight hours a day for a week. Gambelin was so weak that he had to attend some volleyball tournaments in a wheelchair, hairless and exhausted. "It was awful; I had nothing left," he explained.

Gambelin's been cancer free for the past three years - he just had his semi-annual cat scan, which was negative, this week. Another two years and he'll be out of the woods. "The scary part is if it comes back, they can't do the chemo again," he explained.

Out of life's dark moments come rays of light. For Gambelin, who admitted that his cancer fight and mortality remain large parts of his consciousness day to day, that has taken the form of being able to counsel young boys about the risks of testicular cancer -- a young person's disease -- and the importance of engaging in regular self-examination. He's also been able to share his survival story with at least a couple of young men who were stricken and called him seeking advice. That has been gratifying, Gambelin admitted.

Gambelin broke the news of his retirement to his team at a gathering yesterday. "I told them, 'You have made this so easy and so tough at the same time,'" Gambelin said. "'I hate leaving you guys, but you're so talented, you're going to be fine.'"

The cupboard is far from bare for Gambelin's successor. Far, far from it. All six starters, including Junior Olympics All Americans Jessica Gysin, Diane Copenhagen, Colby Lyman and Christa Conom, return next year for a team that finished 31-2 with a Div. II state title and No. 2 national ranking in the Final FAB 50 and should contend next year for the national title. So while a search is ongoing for someone to direct this talented crew, Gambelin said that the job next year should be easy. "This team can coach itself," he said.

In the meantime, Gambelin said he expects to continue in some capacity with the volleyball club City Beach, where he currently is head training coach. Fortunately, his prospective employer has encouraged him to continue coaching club. So while the chapter in Gambelin's life at St. Francis may be closing, Jessica, Colby, Diane, Annie Connor and company need not despair. There may yet be another opportunity to call Gambelin "Coach."


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