Name: Craig Buchanan
Job Title: Director of Strategic Communications
Family: Celia Buchanan - mother – age 66 - retired - born in Glasgow, Scotland - Still lives here in Fort Collins. Ian Buchanan - father – age 66 - retired - Born in Glasgow, Scotland - Still lives here in Fort Collins. Stuart Buchanan - brother – age 32 - works at Mountain West Conference - Born in Glasgow, Scotland - Lives in Colorado Springs. Lauren Buchanan - sister-in-law – age 32 - works as an ICU Nurse. Grayson Buchanan - nephew – age 2. Rebekah Crownover - fiancé – age 28 - 5th grade teacher at Beattie Elementary.
Hometown: Newmarket, NH
College/Year Graduated: Colorado State (2015)
Sports Background: I played soccer and basketball my whole life and have always been involved in sports in some capacity, whether as a player, a coach, or working in college athletics.
Hobbies: Hiking, going on walks around the neighborhood with my fiancé. Landscape Photography.
Favorite trip: I did a two-week solo trip a couple of summers ago where I spent one week in Iceland, and one week in Scotland. It was great to get out and explore the dramatic scenery.
How did become associated with Triple Crown?: Triple Crown has always been something that I knew about growing up in Fort Collins. My brother let me know that there was a job opening, and I instantly knew I was interested in it.
What intrigues you the most about Triple Crown?: Triple Crown has been a pillar in the Fort Collins community for as long as I have been here, so being able to be part of something like that really meant a lot to me. I'm excited to work in athletics from the youth to collegiate level and hopefully provide a positive impact for the athletes who take part in our events.
By Kyle Koso
Popping up on the NCAA volleyball radar these days is the squad from New Mexico, signaling its interest in being a factor in the Mountain West Conference and drawing closer to securing a regular postseason tournament identity.
Some of that has to do with the Lobos, 14-3 overall and 5-1 in the MWC heading into this week’s road matches at Colorado State and Wyoming, getting command of the little things. We’ll discuss that shortly, but first, it might be how the big things were first tackled by head coach Jon Newman-Gonchar that explains the team’s tenacity.
The hamster wheel began spinning on Dec. 28, 2018, when he got married to his wife, Morgan, in Arkansas, where he was associate head coach for the Razorbacks. Next came a trip to Maui for the honeymoon on Dec. 30, followed by a phone interview for the UNM job on Jan. 6, 2019.
UNM job offered and accepted – Jan. 18.
Move to Albuquerque – Feb. 1.
Family welcomes birth of son, Hudson – May.
“It was a whirlwind. We still had a beach volleyball program to run, 20 athletes there and 12 who were crossovers with the indoor team,” Newman-Gonchar said. “Those 12 were on the road six of the eight weeks of our spring (training season). You’re fighting every element in your way, just trying to get some systems in place. I didn’t even know what we had in the gym, let alone what we might need down the road as far as recruiting. It was definitely drinking water from a firehose.”
New Mexico went 11-19 in 2019, but Newman-Gonchar gained real clarity in how to deploy the younger players on the roster and how to recruit to the vulnerabilities that existed in terms of overall skill set. But of greater concern was the day-in, day-out mental approach as the program had hit a wall, going just three matches above .500 overall the previous four seasons.
“It came down to, what is the culture in our gym during practice? There were times we just got outhit, outserved, and we didn’t see that level of play in our gym,” he said. “Almost every nook and cranny of the game, we needed to evaluate. What are the top teams in our league doing, what’s their efficiency, how do we become that? It was that hard look in the mirror as we asked, where is our practice culture not meeting the demand, the reality, of the matches? It wasn’t all about recruiting.”
Those details didn’t get solved overnight, and there may still be hurdles to come, but the 2021 season is surely packed with positive trends. New Mexico was picked to finish 10th in the MWC, but the Lobos started with eight straight non-conference victories, dropping just one set, and have hung tough under pressure lately, coming back from one set down for MWC wins against Utah State and Boise State.
Points come from multiple spots, with 5-foot-9 junior Kaitlynn Biassou leading with 221 kills (3.75 per set) and sophomores Uxue Guereca (178 kills) and Kali Wolf (126) also heavily involved. The Lobos have a significant edge over opponents in hitting percentage (.253-.135) and are thriving under the steady hand of sophomore setter Melissa Walden, a Texas A&M transfer with 509 assists (8.63 per set).
Like every program shuttered and scrambled by COVID-19, there was no way to predict how the Lobos would emerge from their challenges. With no more than five players and one coach allowed in the gym at any one time starting in August 2020, and several international players left with only Zoom calls to stay connected when things were totally cancelled, progress was impossible to gauge, but Newman-Gonchar believes all that work on team culture truly paid off during the duress.
“We got shut down in October (2020), and it had to be one of the most deflating experiences you could go through. After training our best, trying to replicate the game with five players and a coach, that’s not very effective,” he said. “Then in the spring (of 2021), we had three midseason enrollees who were not allowed by the NCAA to play, so just 11 players total, and two got hurt immediately. By the end of the sixth week, I’m on my sixth lineup and have seven players healthy.
“That paints the picture of what the team has gone through, and how they stayed connected. This team finally got a taste (this fall) of everything they’ve wanted, to train and be great teammates and take this conference by storm.”
One other COVID-related variable for the Lobos tied into their early 2021 schedule, which 1) led to a lot of success, and 2) prompted the question of if New Mexico was tested enough ahead of the MWC slate. All those three-set victories may have looked different in another world, but Newman-Gonchar had ultimately planned for the home-and home matchup with Northern Arizona to be a stern challenge, and the Lobos earned a split, surging the mood and leading to a solid conference start.
Which takes us to Thursday’s match at Colorado State and the Saturday trek to Wyoming – one of the notoriously difficult road swings in the MWC. New Mexico will have an interesting subplot to navigate, sorting out how hyped up to get and how much this trip should be used as a measuring stick for the program’s overall standing.
“So I ask, are we giving great effort in practice, does it match where we want to be on game day, are we working our tails off so we can take anything you throw at us, Colorado State or Wyoming, then we have a fighting chance,” Newman-Gonchar added. “It’s always big picture, but in the micro, we need to get better every step. In the moment, we are hungry as all get out about winning matches, and in the macro, are we learning and growing against every opponent?”
NIVC NOTE: Tournament officials for the 2021 NIVC have announced key details for this year’s event, all beginning with Selection Night on Nov. 28. Follow all the news and stay in step with Year 4 of the event at www.womensnivc.com and @WomensNIVC.
After a widely appreciated three-year reboot, the NCAA D-I National Invitational Volleyball Championship had to go in ice like a million other events during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But you can’t keep a good idea down, which means the NIVC is back for 2021 as tournament officials have released details for the event, beginning with Selection Night on Nov. 28, after the NCAA Tournament has selected its field of 64 teams.
Modeled after the NIT and WNIT college basketball tournaments, the NIVC will feature 32-40 teams in a single-elimination format designed to reward deserving programs with a separate postseason experience. For 2021, Rounds 1 and 2 will be held Dec. 2-5, with Round 3 set for Dec. 6-8.
The semifinals will fall between Dec. 8-11, with the championship match slated for either Dec. 13 or 14. All matches are held on campus locations.
Previous NIVC champions are Ole Miss (2017), Iowa State (2018) and Georgia Tech 2019). The event has its roots in the Women’s Invitational Volleyball Championship, which was held between 1989-1995 before its restart under the guiding hand of Triple Crown Sports, producer of the women’s Preseason and Postseason WNIT, the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge basketball events, and the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, the first NCAA D-I softball event held outside the United States.
“We were massively disappointed to lose in the NIVC in 2020, as we’d heard from so many programs that this was filling a major hole in the college volleyball world,” said NIVC director Jared Rudiger. “One thing that COVID didn’t change was the number of standout college volleyball programs and the excitement they can bring to campuses in the chase for the NIVC title. We are thrilled to give high-performing mid-major teams and a determined core of Power 5 programs the chance to end their seasons on a high note.”
The selection criteria for entry into the NIVC suggests a team have at least a .500 winning percentage (including conference tournament matches) or be in the top 120 of the national Ratings Percentage Index (RPI).
Numerous head coaches with NCAA programs are on the record with their support and appreciation for the NIVC.
Houston coach Dave Rehr has participated twice in the event, once while at Arkansas State and once with the Cougars. Said Rehr:
“In basketball they have (multiple) postseason tournaments, and teams rally around tournaments like that. To teach your volleyball team how to play in December is crucial. To have the experience of extra practice and matchups against really quality teams can only make your team better. The volleyball community needs to rally behind the NIVC and see it for the value it is.”
Iowa State head coach Christy Johnson-Lynch: “The NIVC was a great event for our team and fans in 2018. We had a wonderful group of seniors that had been through a lot, and it was awesome they got to experience postseason play that year. Our fans and players relished the chance to continue competing, especially on our home court. I see the NIVC as more opportunity: more opportunity for female athletes, more opportunity for programs to gain experience in a postseason and more opportunity for fans to cheer on their teams and support volleyball.”
Bowling Green coach Danijela Tomic: “Our participation in the NIVC (2017-19) was invaluable. That’s when we turned the page. We want the MAC to send more than one team to the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t happen every year. To show our players, hey, you are not done after the MAC Tournament, we train, have Thanksgiving, train, then play. By the third year in the NIVC, we weren’t just happy to be in the postseason, we want to win. I would recommend the NIVC to teams like that, who were in our situation, where the expectation needs to be ‘we play in the postseason.’”
Georgia Tech head coach Michelle Collier: “It’s a group (in 2021) that has been leaned on from the start, one that learned a lot about postseason pressure in the 2018 and 2019 NIVC. That was a class that’s been playing a lot since their freshman year. They carried a lot of responsibility, and that’s one reason we decided to play in the NIVC – that was such a young group, and they needed the experience of playing, especially in a knock-out tournament, where if you lose you’re out.
“We played it in 2018, and the buildup for us to 2019, and then the buildup to the 2020 season, it was great to get that experience. I felt we just got better and better, and the competition got harder, and it prepared us for the (2020) run in the NCAA’s. We want that in our culture, that we are playing volleyball in December, and the NIVC definitely helped create that culture and the normalcy of thinking we’ve got a couple more weeks to go after Thanksgiving. It paid off for sure.”
About Triple Crown Sports
Based in Fort Collins, CO., Triple Crown Sports has been producing college and youth events for 40 years. TCS runs both the preseason and postseason WNIT basketball events and produces the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge tournaments in November. Triple Crown is also powering “WNIT” concept events in D-I softball (NISC) and volleyball (NIVC), with those two events debuting in 2017. TCS youth fastpitch tournaments (including the 900-team Colorado 4th of July event) draw the nation’s finest club programs, and hundreds of college coaches attend TCS events for recruiting purposes.
Photo by Mallory Hiser, BGSU Athletics
By Kyle Koso
For the Bowling Green volleyball program, last season brought with it a lot of attention and excitement, indicating the team has made tons of progress.
Head coach Danijela Tomic isn’t waiting to see if the Falcons can handle more weight.
While last year’s stellar 22-2 record is a source of pride with the Falcons, Tomic wanted to make sure it didn’t distract from the work of getting better, so she scheduled three rigorous preseason tournaments, at Butler, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. The last one saw Bowling Green fall short to the No. 4 Panthers, No. 12 BYU and a very solid High Point squad, leaving fans to wonder if the psychological impact of those defeats might be an issue heading into conference play.
Not to worry. The Falcons are 4-0 in the MAC Eastern Division (winning 12 of 13 sets), with matches Friday against Northern Illinois and a big Saturday showdown with Western Michigan, 5-0 in the MAC Western Division.
“All three tournaments were strong, and the reason for it was in 2020, we didn’t play any nonconference, and we missed that piece. You learn when you play out of conference,” Tomic said. “We had a historic season, but with that, I thought we needed a real challenge. We needed to sharpen to get to our goal of being in the Top 25. That’s very ambitious for any school, especially a mid-major, and the piece we needed to add was a challenging schedule.
“We know how the NCAA selects at-large teams, the importance of the RPI, and all of this led me to think about how to take the next step. We can’t be satisfied with the season we had, and I think it’s working out. We got tested, which was the plan, because we got a look at where we are and where we want to go.”
Under Tomic’s guidance, Bowling Green made the NCAA Tournament last year and earned berths in the three NIVC tournaments (2017-19) that have run since its rebooting. This year’s roster is in that ideal spot where there’s a healthy amount of experience, with plenty of eligibility left to explore as the Falcons keep grinding on their goals of progress.
Petra Indrova leads the way with 197 kills; three others have topped 100 in Katelyn Meyer (168), Kat Mandly (115) and Katie Kidwell (103). Hannah Laube is the steadiest of hands at setter (498 assists, 10.38 per set) who had the third-highest assist total in the nation last year.
“We have strong pin hitters – Katelyn Meyer along with Petra Indrova, who is an unusual opposite in today’s volleyball because she serve-receives, plays in the back row and is a good defender,” Tomic said. “Kat Mandly is a redshirt freshman who has developed tremendously and has a bright future. We are still working on having more of a middle hitter offense which will make us more balanced. We were a strong serving team last season, but we have gotten even better. With improved serving, our block and serve-receive improved as well. I am also pleased with how our defensive unit is improving and helping us win.”
One of the other unique traits of the Falcons lineup is the international flavor of the roster, with players hailing from the Czech Republic, Puerto Rico, Slovakia, Canada, Sweden and Serbia. On the surface, it seems like a big ask to get an Eastern European, for example, to mesh with life as it’s lived near Lake Erie, but Tomic can speak to it very clearly as she left her homeland (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the mid-1990s to play for and attend the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.
“I still remember when I came to Little Rock in 1995, and how everything was different. And when we have international players come here, I’m reliving those experiences,” Tomic said. “I can help them; they know I was in their shoes, and I understand the homesickness and how to make adjustments. They’re not going to like the food, but they’ll get used to it … we talk about that right away in the recruiting. They can say, ‘my coach was in my shoes.’ And I make sure to connect with the parents, who know they can contact me whenever, especially being so far away.
“These players bring so much richness to our American players, and it’s a cool experience to have all these different players, languages, cultures, and build a team that is unified and works to a common goal … what you can do when you put differences aside.”
If there’s one other force quietly in play as Tomic and the Falcons pursue their lofty goals, it’s tied to a time when the program was experiencing real struggle. In 2014, Bowling Green managed just a 7-21 record, with a 7-22 mark posted the following season. For a volleyball lifer who had shined as a player, worked a couple seasons with the high-flyers at LSU, and got off to a great coaching start at Florida International (158-61 in seven years), that ragged stretch of 2014-15 was rattling.
Tomic began to see that while confidence was important, preparing for those almost inevitable moments of getting humbled was no less relevant to building a proper foundation at Bowling Green.
“If I didn’t go through those years, rough years, where I questioned if I was in the right profession, it made me a better coach. I had to reexamine everything,” she said. “It forced me to look in the mirror, how to be a better leader and better coach. We did establish our core values. As a young coach, you have this ego, that winning comes easily, it did as an athlete, I worked at LSU, had other success, and it was easy.
“Coaches told me, the longer you stay in it, eventually you’ll hit that stretch where difficult years happen for you as a person and coach. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I appreciate the good years more, the amazing student-athletes I’m blessed to coach. I don’t want to go through that again, but if I stay in it, there’s no guarantee, right?”
Photo from JMU Athletics
By Kyle Koso
Thanks to a scheduling tweak authored by the home office of the Colonial Athletic Association, the James Madison volleyball program had last weekend off, giving the Dukes a chance to take a moment and reflect.
So far, it’s a bright and shiny start to the 2021 campaign.
Working out the kinks with a young roster and pushing through the disruptions from last season, JMU currently sits 9-3 overall, dashing off to a 3-1 mark in league play and looking more than capable of reaching the 20-win plateau for the sixth straight year under head coach Lauren Steinbrecher (not including the COVID-compromised slate in 2020). Primary positives include a balanced offensive attack, some stiff defense, and recent evidence that the team can handle stressful moments.
All three of its CAA wins took five sets, two at Delaware and one at home versus College of Charleston. That’s where you can see the youthful roster trying to get comfortable, steps forward and steps back.
“Well, that warped coach’s mindset is to usually be a lot more frustrated with the things we could have done better, and you hate to lose. I think it shows we have a lot of things we can clean up,” said Steinbrecher, who guided JMU to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and 2017. “This is a unique year. We are super deep, and everyone is pretty much at the same skill level. Usually, I have players who are quite a bit better than others, so it’s been interesting trying to figure out the best pieces, how to use them and when to set them.
“We are definitely getting warmer, if you will, to what our best lineup is, and we certainly have to be a team that is firing from all positions on the court. We want to run a balanced offense, and that’s something we worked on.”
Junior Sophia Davis is a two-way menace, leading the team in kills (126) with a .340 hitting percentage, to go with 1.36 blocks per set, which in the national Top 40. Classmate Chloe Wilmoth has 114 kills and sophomore Miette Veldman has 116 kills, making the Dukes hard to decode. Another junior, Caroline Dozier, is the primary setter (9.29 per set) and the program is quickly developing two libero/defender assets in freshmen Jaydyn Clemmer and Madilyn O’Toole.
If the plan holds, this core group can have three full seasons together, with Steinbrecher’s obvious strengths as a recruiter likely to keep the squad’s depth in sturdy condition. She stated that it’s tough to connect traits of this year’s team to the NCAA tourney units of 2016-17; some years are set up to go great and fizzle, while others look a bit bleak but then eventually surprise. For now, the culture feels right, and the team’s balanced attack and resilient defense are also positive markers.
“Point scoring, we are where we need to be,” she said. “Traditionally, for whatever reason, this program has been a good serve-and-defend, good blocking team. First-ball sideout and passing is where we put most of our work. We’re doing a good job making good strong disciplined blocking moves and digging around it.”
Of course, plenty of hurdles lurk in the shadows, which should keep James Madison sharp and aware going forward. They’ll need to quickly get back up to game tempo after this break (no matches between Sept. 26 and Oct. 9). Oddly, opponents have rung up more overall kills (although the Dukes have a significantly better hitting percentage), and laboring to finish off Delaware was a little odd, as the Blue Hens are 6-9 overall.
Very much in the way of progress is Towson, the preseason choice to win the CAA and currently in possession of a 16-2 record. The Tigers are back-to-back league champs (including COVID’s 2020 shortened run) and in the past seven-plus seasons stand 172-47 overall.
“Over the 11 years I’ve been here, it’s kind of changed and moved around. Charleston was super hot, Hofstra has been up there and has some really nice players who can terminate and help them win championships. And 2019 was the year for Towson,” Steinbrecher added. “Last year was brutal, because we didn’t get to play them at all, and for them to win the conference when we didn’t get a chance at them was tough.
“This year, we’re extra excited for the opportunity … Elon is good, and in our conference anyone can win on a given night, which makes it fun. Yeah, we are looking forward to that match.”
NIVC Note: We will be releasing important information on the 2021 NIVC this week.
We are thrilled to be back in action for the fourth time; previous winners are Ole Miss (2017), Iowa State (2018) and Georgia Tech (2019). The event is produced by Triple Crown Sports, which fuels the TC NIT club event over President’s Day Weekend, as well as college events including the Preseason and Postseason WNIT and the men’s and women’s Cancun Challenge.