Dante Chakravorti: The Way

Dante Chakravorti, setter on UCI’s men’s volleyball team, was one of the most enjoyable people I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with. When you speak to an athlete about their sport, you expect at least some level of knowledge. Dante was on a whole other level. He was incredibly knowledgeable about volleyball and was willing to explain everything about anything. Just sitting with him for a brief period of time, I learned so much. His appreciation for the sport, teammates, coaches, and fans was unbelievably refreshing. He spoke so highly of everyone involved. From the coaching and training staff to the fans who come out and support, and of course, his phenomenal teammates. With his dedication, vibrant energy, and passion for the sport, Dante is exactly where he belongs. He states that he wouldn't have it any other way, nor should he.

Where are you originally from and how did you get into volleyball?

I was originally born in Plano, Texas which is just outside of Dallas. My family moved when I was two or three to Chicago, Illinois. We lived downtown in the city until I was five. Then I moved to a village called Glencoe, Illinois which is where I went to school and grew up. I played mainly basketball and soccer growing up but I tried playing as many sports as I could because I liked playing after school. Both my parents worked so it was either play sports or go to the library. I started mainly playing volleyball in middle school because my mom played back in Italy. She suggested I go out for the team so I tried out, I made it, and I liked it. From there I kept playing through high school and club. I’m lucky enough to play out here now.

Do you feel as though there is anything you have to give up in order to play at the college level? Any sacrifices you have to make?

I don't know if I’ll use the word sacrifice just because I think honestly if I could choose what I would be doing, I would be doing exactly what I am doing right now. I realize how lucky I am to say that. There are little things like all my friends back home are going abroad this year and it’s going to be tough for me to go abroad. We train all year so that’s not really an option. Honestly, for everything, there is something we can do. Maybe small sacrifices in some areas but I love what I do. I can't say I would do it too much differently.

What is the best part about being on the volleyball team?

The best part is hanging out with the guys. I think we do a great job of recruiting the right type of people. Not only that but when you come in as a freshman, you don't come in and get hazed and all this crazy stuff. You come in and learn what’s right and wrong from everyone around you because guys are setting the example every day. We don’t have to live with each other, we don’t have to spend every day with each other, and yet we all live in four houses. I live with four guys on our team, I don't have to do that. We carpool to school every day in the morning and carpool home. We’re together every day in practice and together in video. The second we have free time on a Friday night or Saturday night, what are all the guys doing? It’s like what else are we going to do? Of course, I am going to hang with the team. I think it’s awesome. Here you come in and whether you like it or not, you got 20 friends right there.

Let’s talk about the crowd. Do you feel as though bigger crowds give you guys some sort of confidence boost? I have been to games where a ton of people come out and games where barely anyone comes out. Is the crowd a big factor?

I would say yeah. A lot of it depends on who we are playing. In practice, we talk about how we have to create our own energy and use the energy from the bench. But then once we play UCLA, Long Beach, USC, or Pepperdine, these bigger teams, everyone is already kind of juiced up. Then once we see the crowd, hear the crowd, and get going, it’s a huge help. It is such an advantage to have, it’s a huge high. Then after the game ends, you come down from the high but it’s awesome. I absolutely love it.

When the crowd is heckling you during a serve, is it a big distractor?

I hit a float serve so to be honest here, I really should never miss my serve. I’d say if anything it helps. If 6,000 people are screaming at you and no one wants you to make your serve, it’s almost like it elevates you. People are interested in what you’re doing. People came out to spend their Friday night or Saturday night to watch you play and that’s cool. You feel the energy whether it’s good or bad. Some schools have very specific hecklers that have looked up facts about you and are calling out stuff. They’ll look you up on social media and ask your friends all sorts of stuff. Luckily, knock on wood, no one's gotten to me too bad. They're often pretty funny so the biggest thing is not to laugh and keep focus.

Talk me through the process of away games and how fun traveling with your team must be.

It’s awesome! It’s one of my favorite parts of the team and one of the parts I was most excited about coming into college. It’s cool to get on a plane to go play someone. It’s definitely an ego boost. The funniest thing is walking through airports because we’ve got guys that are 6”10 and 7 feet and everyone is just staring at them. They always ask them if they play basketball, how tall they are, if they can dunk, etc. It’s so funny to watch. People stop us all the time for pictures because we’re all matching. Koubi interacting with families in Phoenix are some of my best memories. Watching this French guy trying to explain what we’re doing back when his English wasn't as good was so funny. It’s a blast traveling with the team and staying in the hotel rooms, meeting up in conferences rooms, and working out in the snow. Just stupid stuff we do in the airport like pushups and people are like what are those guys doing.  

During games, which of your teammates would you consider to be the biggest hype man?

Our bench does an unreal job of keeping us hyped winning or losing. I think it’s tough to do. When the team is losing, having been on the bench, it’s not easy to try and get guys going. I think Logan Zotovich, the other setter, is unbelievable from the bench. It’s gnarly. He is the heart and soul of our team for sure. Zach Mills, who is a redshirt freshman, hasn't seen the court yet but he’s there cracking jokes and doing whatever the team needs. Then on the court, I think it flips off a lot. I know I talk more than most of them. When Karl turns around a gives a big scream, everyone gets hyped. When Scotty jets someone and does his flex thing everyone gets super hyped. David Parker will chirp at a lot of guys and get them going. It’s pretty collective.

Why do you guys huddle up after each point lost or earned? What goes on in the huddle?

I think it’s huge for our team and it’s something I love about the sport. A lot of other sports have adopted it. Every point in volleyball is worth one point so the most important point is always the next one. You can always come back and you can always lose a lead, there is no clock. So that time gives us a chance to celebrate things we did well and make in game adjustments. We can bring it in and be like, “Hey this guy is killing us over here, what can we do?” David can say something and Scott can say something. The other thing is that you can huddle for a bit longer to sit and stall. We can bring anything into that circle and leave it there. No matter what happens, frustration or good things, you can bring it into the six guys that you’ve huddled with a thousand times before. You can let it go, reset, and everyone is good to go for the next point. The huddle is huge. The huddle is the most important part of every play in my opinion.

What advice has the coach given you that you will always remember?

We journal every day before practice and after practice. I have journals filled with advice that hopefully, I’ll lean on later. To answer your question, I think the biggest piece of advice is whatever you're feeling, however you’re playing, whatever is going on in your life, before you try to fix it, take a second, breathe, and acknowledge how you feel about it. I’m a fixer, whenever something goes wrong, I want to do whatever I can to fix it. He says, whatever happens, good, bad, hurt, happy, take time and let yourself do that. It’s the most human thing you can do so I try to do that in everything. When something goes wrong before I rush to fix it, it’s like “okay I don’t really like how this feels, that’s alright, I'm a human,” and go from there. When something is happy too, you don’t want to rush over it. When we win a match, almost always I’ll ask our coach for our next opponent’s last match so I can start watching video on them that night. Our coach looks at me like, “Hold on. We won a game, take a second, enjoy it, be happy. These people came to watch you play, they want to interact with you.” I’m like, “You’re so right.” Then I step back and enjoy that.  

What words of advice or encouragement do you have to share with younger athletes who want to play at the college level?

I think the biggest thing is just to love whatever sport you are playing. There are plenty of people that are going to tell you that you need to put in this many hours or email this many coaches. All that stuff is probably right, I’m not going to bash on that because everyone does it nowadays. You don’t want to think of playing college sports as the end goal like, “Okay I made it to college.” You should get to college and be like, “Wow I get to play my sport for UCI. I get to play my sport in front of all these people and get to go to school at the same time.” So just whatever you’re doing, love it, and if you don't love it, either find a way to love it or change. They say do what you love and you’re not working. If you love it, working 20-25 hours a week is not a problem. If you don't enjoy playing volleyball and you're playing volleyball 25 hours a week, you're going to be miserable. So just love what you do.

Rapid Fire:

Celebrity crush?

Blake Lively

Go to karaoke song?

Ring of Fire

Most embarrassing moment?

We were at Stanford and I was running after a ball. I tried to kick the ball, completely missed, and drilled this old guy in the face. His glasses broke and he was a little bloody. I was like wow I just killed this guy. He was a well-known fan there for 25 years, we all knew who he was. After the game, I went up to him with our trainer to see if there is anything we could do and he could not have been nicer about it. He was like, “Can you sign this? Can you take a picture?” I was like, “Whatever you want man. I’ll help you out.” Luckily no harm, no foul. That was one of the dumber things I’ve ever done.

Dream Vacation?

I used to go to Italy every summer because my mom and family is from there. So I would go back to the island of Sardinia and hang out with my family again.

Biggest pet peeve?

Wilted basil. I absolutely love basil. If it looks slightly wilted or is bitter, it grinds my gears like no other that someone would let good basil go to waste.

Favorite emoji?

Definitely the little monkey with the hands over his face. That thing is awesome.

Coffee or tea?

Tea

                                                                                                                 Many thanks to Dante for taking part in this interview!