Victoria Elaine Samarin, a successful high school girls volleyball coach around the Fresno area during a 25-season career that culminated in Clovis East High’s first Central Section Division I title, died Saturday at her Clovis home.
After spending the day taking eldest son, Daniel’s, cat to a veterinarian in Kerman and enjoying a strawberry lemonade from Chick-fil-A that evening with her husband of 28 years, Tim, Mrs. Samarin passed in her sleep.
She was 56.
Mrs. Samarin battled mid-stage bone marrow cancer along with amyloidosis, a rare organ-attacking disease that’s not curable, since being diagnosed in November, Daniel Samarin said.
“Mom had been in treatment and was real positive, and her levels were going down,” Daniel Samarin said. “But Saturday when mom went to sleep, she woke up with the Lord. Her heart just stopped.”
Mrs. Samarin, a two-time Bee Girls Volleyball Coach of the Year commonly known as Vicki, was a standout setter for Immanuel High, graduating in 1979, before moving on to play in college at Cal Poly and Liberty Baptist in Virginia.
She coached the men’s club team while at Baylor while earning her Master’s degree before moving back to Fresno County, where she launched her high school coaching career in 1988 at Selma.
Mrs. Samarin’s teams won three league titles in six seasons at Selma before she moved on to Kerman in 1994. At Kerman, Mrs. Samarin led the Lions to eight league titles and consecutive section Division IV championships in 1998 and 1999 during nine seasons, according to historian Bob Barnett.
After a couple years away from coaching, Mrs. Samarin received a call from then-Clovis East athletic director Joe Panella asking if she’d be interested in taking over the struggling Timberwolves program. Panella reached Mrs. Samarin via cell phone while she and Tim where driving through Paso Robles en route to watch Daniel play for the UC Santa Barbara men’s club volleyball team. By the time she reached Santa Barbara, Mrs. Samarin called Panella back and accepted the position.
She loved taking kids who didn’t have the opportunity and advantage that other kids had, and turning them into winners.
Tim Samarin on his wife and former Clovis East High volleyball coach Vicki Samarin
That began a slow metamorphosis at Clovis East, which went rose to Tri-River Athletic Conference champion during Mrs. Samarin’s 10 seasons. The Timberwolves had never won a match in the powerful TRAC before Mrs. Samarin’s arrival.
“She wanted to go to a school where she was challenged,” Tim Samarin said. “She’d do anything for anyone for the love of the game and the love of teaching kids.
“She loved taking kids who didn’t have the opportunity and advantage that other kids had, and turning them into winners. She really enjoyed watching that happen.”
In 2015, Clovis East arrived as a section force.
Behind fourth-year starters in Christina Tran and Thaliana Grajeda, the Timberwolves won the Hard Driven Volleyball Challenge tournament, the school’s first TRAC and section D-I titles, and advanced to the CIF Southern California Regional playoffs for the first time, losing a close 25-20, 25-21, 17-25, 23-25, 15-8 match to eventual state champion Redondo Union. It was Redondo Union’s only five-set victory during its march to the state title.
“She was more than just a coach to a lot of us. She was like a second mom,” said Grajeda, who now plays at San Jose State. “She cared so much about the program and us and our success. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today playing Division I volleyball. She was one of the biggest reasons why I am here.”
Mrs. Samarin stepped down as Clovis East coach following the season in order to spend more time watching her youngest son, Aaron, play volleyball at national power Ohio State.
“It felt amazing to be able to give her that championship before her retirement,” said Tran, who now plays at Fresno Pacific. “Because she’s done so much for me, that’s all I wanted to give to her.
“She was so selfless. She put her players and everyone ahead of herself. What she taught me in high school has impacted me so much, and it will for the rest of my life.”
Clovis East’s rise to the top under Mrs. Samarin came as no surprise to former coaching rival Marian Battles of Buchanan.
“There is no one that worked harder than she did,” said Battles, who worked with Mrs. Samarin on the Central Cal Volleyball Club. “She did not always have the support she needed, but she still found a way to make it happen for those kids.
“And the things those kids say about her. That she was a mentor, a second mom. Those are the things as a coach that you want kids to say about you. She didn’t just influence them in volleyball, but in everything.”
She was more than just a coach to a lot of us. She was like a second mom. ... If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be where I am today playing Division I volleyball.
San Jose State volleyball player Thaliana Grajeda
Mrs. Samarin coached the eighth-grade girls volleyball team at Clovis East feeder Reyburn Intermediate and continued to teach physical education until her health began to deteriorate in October.
“Besides all of her accolades as a coach, as a mentor to young women, she was phenomenal,” Clovis East athletic director Pat Waer said. “Her impact on the girls who played for her will be as significant as anything in their lives. It’s a huge loss for our school, our community and the volleyball community in the Central Valley. She was so respected all around.”
Mrs. Samarin’s love of volleyball rubbed off on sons Daniel and Aaron.
Daniel has been coaching volleyball since graduating from Buchanan in 2008, and recently took his mother’s subtle hints and left the corporate world of engineering to go into education and coaching full-time. He’s an assistant with Buchanan’s girls and boys teams. Aaron is a junior libero at Ohio State following an All-American career at Buchanan.
“Mom wanted to make sure everyone else could do what they wanted to do and accomplish what they wanted to accomplish,” Daniel Samarin said. “And she was going to everything she could to get them there. She was relentless in that aspect. She was tough, but she was tough because she cared.”
A Celebration of Life for Mrs. Samarin is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at New Covenant Community Church. Remembrances may be sent to: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 1175 Shaw Ave., Suite 104 #370, Clovis, California, 93612.
Victoria Elaine Samarin
- Died: April 1, 2017, at age 56
- Occupation: Teacher and volleyball coach
- Celebration of Life: 10 a.m. April 6 at New Covenant Community Church
- Remembrance: Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 1175 Shaw Ave., Suite 104 #370, Clovis, CA 93612