Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Next Step In Princeton Volleyball

For the first time in as long as TB has been working with volleyball (which dates back to the 20th century), the dartboard is gone from the coach's office.

Yes, a new era in Princeton volleyball has begun.

Jolie Ward steps into the unenviable position of following Princeton legend Glenn Nelson, who guided the women's program to 11 Ivy League titles and the men to a historic 1998 NCAA semifinal berth before retiring last spring.

Part of the new era includes two head coaches for the two programs, which hasn't happened since 1981. Ward will coach the women's program, and her assistant coach will also serve as the head men's coach. In TB's opinion, this move was a necessity because of the importance of both recruiting and off-season practicing. In truth, Nelson was able to work with the men's program full time in the spring because assistant coach Sabrina King was a full-time spring coach and also handled the heavy majority of recruiting duties.

Ward's bio looks good. She earned several team and league honors as a player and posted winning records in her first two stops; in one year at Manhattan, she turned a program that finished 10th the previous season into a playoff contender and missed the four-team postseason on the final day of the conference schedule.

Realistically, though, Princeton wasn't going to hire a coach without the credentials. So what did TB learn about Jolie Ward in the first 24 hours that he thought would serve her and the program best? has a two-part video chat that will run this week with Ward, where she discusses her own career, her goals for her players and her view of the overall program. In the second part, which will air tomorrow, she specifically talks about the history of the Princeton program. The first thing she did was mention Glenn Nelson.

There were two ways to go about this. One is to just begin your own legacy; the fact of the matter is, within a couple years, your incoming recruits probably won't know who the former coach was anyway. She could have talked about what she wanted the program to become and left it at that.

To specifically mention Nelson, and then to talk about how failure of either program is, in her wording, "unacceptable" because of Nelson's legacy, says more than anything else about Ward. She didn't lower the bar for herself.

And because she didn't lower it for herself, she certainly won't lower it for her players. Without question, there will be a different aura around this program. It isn't necessarily better or worse; right now, zero matches into Ward's time here, it is only different.

But by also specifically crediting Nelson for the program's success, and by challenging herself to maintain his lofty standards, TB also believes that she is inviting the volleyball alumni -- who have known only one face around this program -- to stay on board. Again, this was a smart move; maintaining the alumni base, which is especially strong in Nelson's home-away-from-home of California, will keep the strong ties of the program alive and ideally be a way to locate young talent on the opposite coast.

TB would like to believe the alumni will give Ward a chance. While Nelson was truly one-of-a-kind, his professional passions were the sport and the Princeton players who worked at it. Those will be Ward's as well, and like Nelson, she seems eager to work at bringing the highest level of volleyball to Princeton University.

It may take a couple weeks for the current players to get comfortable with a new coach after knowing only Nelson's method of doing things, but maybe that isn't so bad. With four starters leaving and only one, Sheena Donohue, with more than a year of starting experience, an uncomfortable, difficult preseason may lead to the highest level of work and position competition.

When the league season rolls around Oct. 3, we'll have a better sense of what the 2009 squad will be like. There were few around Princeton who were bigger fans of the previous regime than TB, but there are also few who are more excited and, after the last 24 hours, optimistic for the current regime.

1 comment:

Carl said...

Quite great to read about the Jolie Ward steps into the unenviable position,and post is also good,

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