FROM THE BLUE AND GOLD TO THE CARDINAL AND GOLD
SABRINA SMITH & SAM KOBRINE
My name is Sabrina Smith and my boyfriend Sam Kobrine and I recently finished out our collegiate careers on the USC men’s and women’s volleyball teams, but our paths to joining the Trojan family were anything but traditional. Sam and I recently graduated from USC’s Marshall School of Business with master’s degrees in social entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship and innovation, respectively. We started our collegiate careers at UCLA, where we played volleyball for the Bruins. Sam was a setter/outside hitter/opposite on the men’s team from 2016 to 2021 and graduated with a degree in political science. I was a middle blocker on the women’s team from 2017 to 2021 and graduated with a degree in sociology. When COVID-19 hit, our final volleyball seasons at UCLA became threatened with uncertainty. The 2021 Pac-12 women’s volleyball season was postponed. We both played our final volleyball seasons at UCLA in the spring of 2022, wearing masks and without any fans in the stands. Although this was not the special senior season that we each had hoped for, we did receive a gift from participating in that season – an extra year of NCAA eligibility.
Although this was not the special senior season that we each had hoped for, we did receive a gift from participating in that season – an extra year of NCAA eligibility.
When we heard the news, we both decided independently that we wanted to explore the possibility of utilizing the extra year of eligibility that we were gifted to pursue graduate school. After spending our last season at UCLA playing in empty arenas, we both felt that our journey with volleyball couldn’t come to an end just yet– we had another year of great volleyball in us. We both entered the transfer portal and started the recruiting process all over again. The main factors that we prioritized were the programs offered, quality of education, location and volleyball programs. It just so happened that USC checked all of the boxes.
The main factors that we prioritized were the programs offered, quality of education, location and volleyball programs. It just so happened that USC checked all of the boxes.
After numerous discussions with the coaching staff, as well as our friends and family, we narrowed down the master’s programs that spoke to us and decided to apply. At that point, Sam and I were all in when it came to attending USC. We decided that if we were accepted into the master’s programs that we were interested in, we would commit to joining the USC volleyball program for our final season. By May 2022, we were both accepted into USC’s Marshall School of Business.
The decision to leave UCLA was difficult. Growing up, UCLA was a “dream school” for both of us. Sam has a very personal relationship with UCLA: his grandfather, grandmother, uncle, aunt, brother and father attended UCLA. His father played basketball at UCLA and his brother was also a member of the UCLA men’s volleyball team from 2018 to 2022. We absolutely loved the life that we had created in Westwood and the sense of belonging that we felt around us. What made the decision to transfer a little bit easier, however, was the amount of support and words of encouragement we both received when we broke the news to our teammates and coaches. Although we acknowledged that it would be strange to see our teammates on opposite sides of the net, those in our community knew that, at the core, our intentions were pure and there were no bad feelings associated with leaving UCLA.
The most important thing that we took away from our time at UCLA was the relationships that we formed with our teammates and others within the Bruin community. Not only did we develop lifelong friendships, but UCLA is where we met.
Not only did we develop lifelong friendships, but UCLA is where we met.
Our journey began in 2019. What started out as a friendship eventually turned into something more; we have been dating for close to 3.5 years now. Making the transfer to USC was definitely easier knowing that we would be doing it together.
Although the move was just across town, the amount of change was overwhelming to start. It is such an odd experience to be four or five years into college where you finally feel like you have everything figured out only to feel like a freshman again, needing to ask for directions around campus. For me, after my first day of 17th grade at USC, I knew that I was in the right place. The entrepreneurship and innovation program at USC is very special; there were people from over 70 countries represented in my cohort. The diversity and the amount of drive, passion and intellect among my peers were just a few of the factors that went into making my experience within the program special. Sam and I both enjoyed being in a smaller and more intimate learning environment; we found the professors to be very personable, caring and supportive. Sam’s goal is to enter the world of real estate finance. He loved how outside of his program’s core business curriculum, he had the freedom to choose electives that would provide him with the tools and knowledge that he sees himself implementing in the workplace.
When joining the USC volleyball program, Sam and I felt a lot of support coming from our new teammates, coaches, support staff and even USC Athletic Director Mike Bohn. We both knew Brad Keller, the USC women’s volleyball head coach, from his time coaching at UCLA. Funny enough, Brad recruited Sam and his younger brother to play volleyball at UCLA. Brad made the switch over to the women’s side and was the associate head coach during our 2019 UCLA women’s volleyball season. I could feel the amount of trust that Brad had in my ability to positively impact the culture of the USC women’s volleyball program. He knew my character, work ethic and what I would bring to his team. In his second season as a head coach at USC, I believed in the program that he was working to build and his foundation and core values really spoke to me: grit, gratitude and relationships.
In his second season as a head coach at USC, I believed in the program that he was working to build and his foundation and core values really spoke to me: grit, gratitude and relationships.
Sam was coming off of an All-American season at UCLA as a setter. For him, leaving UCLA was difficult; knowing that USC’s volleyball program struggled the past two years, finishing with a combined 10-27 record. Sam knew he would need to significantly improve his play to help USC compete against top competition. Sam ultimately played outside hitter, a position that is familiar to him. At UCLA, Sam played two seasons as an outside hitter before transitioning to a setter. Sam and the USC men’s volleyball team went on to have an excellent season, finishing second in the MPSF, and at one point, ranking top-five in the country. Sam was named a NCAA All-American as the team finished the season with a 22-7 record.
Sam was named a NCAA All-American as the team finished the season with a 22-7 record.
We each had unforgettable times at USC, with two nights in particular standing out to us.
I would have to say picking a highlight from my time at USC is pretty easy. On senior night at the Galen Center, it just so happened that we were scheduled to play the number 13-ranked UCLA Bruins. It was so special for me to have the opportunity to have a senior night with my whole family cheering me on in the stands. As funny as it may sound, I was also fortunate to have some of my old teammates there just across the net. I will never forget the energy of the Galen Center that night. We ended up battling with the Bruins and winning a five-set thriller to make us postseason eligible and keep UCLA from winning the Pac-12 title. I had a career high eight blocks and teamed up for the game-winning block. In a full circle type of way, we ended up not making the postseason tournament and this would be my last collegiate volleyball game.
My season highlight was early in the season when we traveled to play UC Irvine. UCI was a talented team, so we anticipated a competitive match. Despite already beating UCI at home in our previous match, I was not playing to my potential early in the season. We beat UCI in a thrilling five-set match. The match was one of the best statistical games of my career, as I finished with 21 kills and only one error. The game changed the course of my season as I regained my confidence.
The game changed the course of my season as I regained my confidence.
I was then named the National Player of the Week, the only time I had received this award in my career. The match was also special because of its proximity to Newport Beach, my hometown. This allowed several friends and family members to come and support USC men’s volleyball.
When it comes to transferring, we believe in doing what is best for you as an individual. Sam and I are forever grateful for all of the people who have been a part of our journey and believed in us along the way. Some of the things that Sam and I have in common that got us to this point are our strong work ethic, quiet confidence and competitive nature. We both remained humble and grateful for the opportunity to join the Trojan family, represent USC and graduate with master’s degrees from one of the top business schools in the country.
With UCLA and USC on our resumes, we get asked all the time who we root for… the truth is that we want the best for both schools and we feel so fortunate and proud to have two incredible programs to follow. Looking back at our college careers, we do not think about which school was “better." What is most valuable to us is the growth that we experienced throughout the different phases of our careers and the relationships we developed along the way – the lifelong friends and most importantly, meeting each other.