Wednesday, February 16, 2011

King's Reign

TigerBlog can refer to the blog itself or to the writer of the blog. Almost always, the writer is the same TigerBlog. Every now and then, though, another TigerBlog takes over for the day.

In the past, this has led to confusion and emails asking if this was actually TigerBlog or a different TigerBlog. Today, TigerBlog offers, well, a different TigerBlogger:

Glenn Nelson stood on the tee box, and for just a split second, wasn’t focused on the shot ahead.

The long-long-longtime head coach of all things Princeton volleyball was convinced one year that his teams finally needed a media/recruiting guide. It was the summer of 1999, and while Nelson had no real plans of using it (as evidenced by the unopened box that stayed in this TB’s trunk for months), he finally gave in.

He had one condition. He wasn’t going to talk about players or previews in his office or on the phone. If TB wanted information, he was going to have to fish for it over 18 holes. Well, 19 holes.

The tricky part is breaking Nelson’s focus on the golf course. Despite a limp brought on from an injury decades earlier, the man had a magician’s touch, especially close to the green. Put the ball anywhere inside 20 yards and it’s up, down and off to the next hole.

He’d answer a question or two, but it never broke his concentration. That is, until the player in question was Sabrina King.

To this day, TB doesn’t remember Nelson’s quote, though it had something to do with the fact that she’d be playing for one of the best teams in the country if she had been six inches taller. The quote itself didn’t matter. The point had already been made.

Sabrina King was something special.

If Sydney Johnson wins an Ivy League title the way John Thompson III did 10 years earlier, the face of Princeton men’s basketball will still be Pete Carril. It’s not like that in every sport here, but two years since his retirement, Nelson still remains the face of Princeton volleyball.

But for quite some time, as both player and assistant coach, King has been its heart and soul.

King was named the fourth head coach of Princeton women’s volleyball last week, an announcement that apparently brought plenty of positive responses to the inbox of Director of Athletics Gary Walters. King is beloved by the alumni, from those who preceded her to those who both played with and were recruited by her.

She began as an assistant coach in 2002, and she left the program when Nelson retired following the 2008-09 academic year. Of the last 14 women’s volleyball seasons, she has been here for 11, and she has been part of the team photo for each of Princeton’s last five Ivy League champions.

King spent the last two years away from the volleyball court, doing a variety of things to find if any could match the fulfillment she found in coaching at Princeton.

Obviously, we learned that answer last week.

The fact that it was coaching at Princeton was the key to King. TB has a hunch that this was King’s first application for a full-time head coaching position, and he also has a hunch that it will be her last. She wasn’t meant to coach volleyball in the MAAC, or the NEC, or even in a BCS conference.

She wasn’t meant to coach at Yale or Penn, either.

Sabrina King recruited the best players of the last decade, including a handful on the team right now. Her last class of recruits included Lydia Rudnick, one of two unanimous first-team All-Ivy selections last season, and Pat Schwagler, the reigning EIVA Rookie of the Year.

Schwagler, by the way, is male. King’s job description didn’t necessarily include assisting Nelson in men’s recruiting, but she did so anyway. Why?

The same reason she wasn’t meant to coach anywhere but here.

Sabrina King is Princeton volleyball.

TB has covered Princeton volleyball for 11 seasons – 22 if you count the men – so he feels pretty confident in predicting a long, successful run for King. In fact, the potential combination of King and men’s coach Sam Shweisky could make each stronger; both possess different strength that could complement the other.

There will be some form of learning curve as the head coach, especially because only one coach could do things the Glenn Nelson way, and he’s in somewhere in a fairway with a wedge in his hands.

King will figure it out. She’ll do it because she’s smart, because she knows the game and the University and, more than anything, because Princeton volleyball means more to her than it does to anybody else.

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