Today's final installment in this three part post will primarily serve as an introduction to the Southland Conference's new head volleyball coaches. As you might expect, the programs represented here are in somewhat of a rebuilding mode. McNeese might not be in quite the same place as these other schools, but still we aren't talking about clubs that have had a lot of recent success here.
The title of this series is actually a bit of a misnomer. At least, I think it is. Chris Laird resigned as the head coach at Nicholls on the 21st of June and the university announced that a search would begin shortly there after. But as of this writing, there has been no official announcement of a hiring on their webpage. The short-n-sweet announcement that Laird was bye-bye can be found here. That's as sterile as it gets. I'm sure there is a story here that I don't know (or maybe even care to know), but Nicholls' athletic website isn't exactly known for gushing with informative articles. Most folks know that the higher education facilities in Louisiana have faced all sorts of budget issues and suffice it to say that I'm not terribly surprised at either a) the lack of information available to the public or b) the fact that the position, if filled, isn't advertised.
So, that dispatches with Nicholls. We have McNeese, Northwestern State and Texas A&M -Corpus Christi remaining on our coaching tour.
In case you missed the first two articles (shame on you), you can click on the links below:
The Dozen In Charge, Part 1: The Legends
The Dozen In Charge, Part 2: The Veterans
Tony Graystone, TAMUCC
Actually, Graystone is not a new coach in the SLC. His post at TAMUCC began last year and he's got one win in his home gym to show for it. The Islanders went 9-22 last year under Graystone and have got as far as any program in the conference to climb in order to gain some measure of consistent respect. To be more positive, TAMUCC did have some decent matches in SLC play last year. I specifically remember them stretching Sam to five sets in Huntsville and they tallied a sweep of Southeastern and Nicholls near the end of the conference slate. Those two wins were probably their highest quality though. I mean, wins against Alcorn State, UT-Pan American and Centenary don't do a lot for me.
Take a look at their 2010 roster. Notice anything? There is a whole lot of "FR" on that list. The only seniors on the team are "shoulder tear waitin' to happen" Ridley and personal fave Jessica Jennett. The offense last year consisted solely of Ridley and now Junior Jessica Korda. Those two accounted for a whopping 65% of the teams' total kills. By way of comparison, our top two in kills last year (Bay and MC both had 362 each) accounted for 40% of the balls finding the floor.
Graystone definitely has the quantity part in his 2010 recruits, but they may have some quality in there too. PrepVolleyball.com ranks their recruiting class among the top 100 in the nation. I'm not sure how much of that has to do with there being seven early signing period girls and two later addition freshman to bring the newcomer total to nine. Ridley, Jennett and Korda are the only non-freshman/sophomores on the team.
So, yes, Graystone is building. Graystone knows what it feels like to win a lot of games though. At one point while the head coach at DII West Texas A&M he won 100 of 106 matches. He reached 300 career victories faster than any other DII volleyball coach in history. I'll leave it to you to be impressed or ask if the competition at West Texas A&M was significantly better than tumbleweeds. I'm inclined to fall on the fence and reserve complete judgement until around 2013 when this signing class blooms.
Terry Gamble, McNeese
Gamble continues the theme of coaches successful at smaller programs. Not like McNeese and TAMUCC are "larger programs", but we are talking DI volleyball as oppose to the junior college ranks where Gamble is a semi-legend. Gamble accumulated 751 victories in the JuCo ranks - good enough to get him elected to the NJCAA (look it up) volleyball coaches Hall of Fame (who knew!). There are a few junior college national championships on his resume too.
I'll miss Dale Starr. Man, that guy was a trip. The veins in that guys head would bulge and he often looked like he was going to go over and bite the ear off one of his players. That guy could get after it. The really astute reader will know that I actually liked (like?) the McNeese team more than most. You can re-read this post here to see what I mean. Warning: that is the post that some think I wrote while stoned.
Yes, I think Nicole Bowden and Priscilla Massengale are good. They graduated their setter (Sarah Cartie, who was also good) so it remains to be seen if Gamble will get anything out of sophomore Becky Bekelja or maybe they'll turn to - you guessed it - junior college transfer Danielle Kraci.
One thing Gamble will have to address is tanking down the stretch. The Cowgirls were horrible at the end of the 2009 season losing their last six conference games to lose out on a tournament berth due to a crazy tiebreaker rule. They were 17-13 last year, but they started the year 13-2, so you do the math. They lost back-to-back five set matches on the last two days of the season at home against Nicholls and Southeastern Louisiana.
Gamble's been a head coach for 15 seasons prior to being hired as head wrangler of the Cowgirls. With all (due?) respect to Midland Lutheran College, St. Clair County Community College and Iowa Western Community College, I just don't think the past is overly indicative of the future here. Chanel Tyler and Sarah Cartie aren't on this team any more and I think that loss will mean more for 2010 than the coaching change. Like Graystone, Gamble will need time. In a few years, we'll see if McNeese has consistently found the postseason. That will be the measuring stick for Mr. Gamble in Lake Charles.
The Hernesman's, Northwestern State
I guess they figure it's going to take them both to turn this around. Northwestern State won three (as in "3")times last year and didn't win a set in 13 of their 24 matches. So who can blame former head coach Brittany Uffelman for leaving the bat cave (this is a must re-read by the way) and heading back to her roots in Wyoming. Actually, Uffelman did a decent job. Last year was the last in five that NWLA hadn't made the tournament. She is the only coach to ever lead a Demon team to the SLC Tourney.
I have to admit I chuckled a little bit when I read that Northwestern had hired a married set of co-coaches to run the squad. To be fair though, while an undergraduate I majored in a department that had hired several married couples and my home department right now at SFA recently hired a married couple. So, if it can work on the academic side, why not here? Right? [I guess?] [Maybe?] OK, whatever.. moving on...
So, thus begins the Hugh and Stepanie Hernesman era at Northwestern State. Hugh is a former head coach at Hardin Simmons (with again.. a fair amount of success like Graytone and Gamble) and they each have had stints as assistants at Ball State and Wisconsin-Whitewater. I just like typing that: Wisconsin-Whitewater. Wisconsin-Whitewater. It just sounds so wunderful and weefreshing. Wisconsin-Whitewater.
The Hernesman's will bring in three freshman and one transfer to add to a core of returning players from last year. This will be a baptism by fire for the coaching duo as there doesn't appear to be a very rosy outlook for 2010. We open conference play against them in Natchitoches. I admit I'm planning on going. Albeit more to watch the two-headed coaching approach and scout out the bats than be entertained by Demon volleyball.
Despite a fair amount of sarcasm in this post, the truth is that one of these programs - or maybe all - will receive a decent shot in the arm over their coaching changes. I think the transitions will be rough in a few cases and maybe some of these programs won't get the gain they are hoping for.
But who knows, you gotta start somewhere. I mean, these coaches are experiencing a lot of "new firsts". First recruiting classes at their new schools, first fall practices, first meetings... they are in a honeymoon period with their new schools and of course, we all know honeymoons are fun. But when the honeymoon period wears off, it will all boil down to wins and losses - just like it does for any coach of a college athletic team.
I sincerely look forward to meeting these folks. Additionally, I truly wish them success..and I hope it comes fast. We all can agree that if these coaches succeed, then the conference as a whole benefits. The better the teams in our conference get, the more respect the Southland gets in general. So, I wish them all the success they can garner. Except when SFA comes to town or their girls step foot on our floor. In those two cases, I wish all you new coaches a pleasant nightmare.