The start of the new volleyball season might still be a few months away, but The Maroon isn’t wasting any time before getting to know the team’s new head coach, Vanessa Walby, from UW–Whitewater. Sports Editor Kate Fratar talked to Walby about plans for the Maroons in 2009 and favorite moments in a young coaching career.
Kate Fratar: When did you hear about the opening for a new volleyball coach at Chicago?
Vanessa Walby: I heard about it in mid-February…and I applied immediately. I heard about it from a lot of people, and then I went online and saw it on the NCAA’s career center. That’s how I mostly found out about it, and then I made some calls and checked it out a little bit more.
KF: Is coaching a career that you knew that you wanted to pursue?
VW: It was. At first, I was just going into physical education to be a teacher, and then the more I started coaching camps and the more I was around my mentor [Kris Russell] here at UW–Whitewater, the more appealing it was to me and the more excited and into it I got. So, I finally sat down with [Russell] one day and said, “This is what I’m passionate about. I think I want to be at the college level. I love doing camps, I love the whole learning aspect and giving back to the athletes….” It’s just sort of been rolling since then.
KF: Do you have a favorite coaching or playing experience?
VW: My favorite coaching experience was this last year in regionals. There were five seniors on our team, and all of them came into their careers winning a national championship. Their only goal was to come back and win another one. We were playing St. Thomas up in Minnesota on their home court, and we were losing like 11–0 at some point. One of the middle blockers comes out and looks at me and she goes, “This feels like Nationals all over again last year, and we’re all falling apart. This is not going to be my last game.” I said, “Well, then you need to do something about it.” I saw her completely take over our whole game, and we came back from an 11–0 deficit and won 30–27, and then ended up winning the match. Her stats just flew up from that point on.
KF: Chicago volleyball has struggled the past couple of years and went 66–169 over the past seven seasons with former head coach Dorinda von Tersch. What plans do you have to help rebuild the program?
VW: I think this is a program that’s on the rise. My vision for this program is within the next four or five years to have them compete competitively at conference and competitively nationally. My goal by the time the incoming freshmen are seniors is that we’re ranked in the top 25 in the Division-III NCAA poll.
Some of the girls and I have talked a little bit. We haven’t gone into it in great detail yet because I haven’t been able to go down and have a meeting with all of them, but in my interview [those goals were] something that they were very interested in and thought was really feasible. [The way] academics are set up and school doesn’t start until October, that’s a five-week pre-season where a lot of learning and developing can happen. I think that’s probably going to be the biggest time for us, that time to fine-tune some of the skills that they have and get them refocused and mentally set on being a competitive team. I think right now mentality is one of their big things that needs to flip the switch in that they think that they can do this and know that they can do it.
KF: Is there a certain type of training that you really believe in and think would help achieve those goals?
VW: I believe in a lot of scrimmaging because the more game-like situations you have, the more real repetitions you have. I also believe in a lot of individual work where just the left side is hitting together and getting special training on just their position.
The new era in Maroon volleyball kicks off on April 29, when Walby will start commuting to Chicago to hold practice three days a week until the end of May. She’ll wrap up the job at Whitewater before moving to Chicago over the summer in time for pre-season in August.