The NCAA has passed legislation adding the National Invitational Volleyball Championship as a permanent season-ending event for volleyball – Triple Crown Sports brought the event back to life in 2017 and has seen the programs from Ole Miss, Iowa State, Georgia Tech and UNLV claim an NIVC title. The 2022 event will launch with selection night on Nov. 27, with the championship match slated for Dec. 12 or 13.
By Kyle Koso
One of those college athletics stories told a million times, but always fresh to the ones involved, is the tricky journey of a new head coach taking over a program. How will the veteran players react? Will incoming freshmen stick it out? Is it best to apply a heavy hand or lighter touch on new tactics, procedures and game plans?
Early chapters on the topic are reading gracefully for the Wright State volleyball squad, which is off to a 5-0 start in 2022 under new head coach Travers Green, who was an assistant coach at Mississippi State for four years before taking on his first job atop a program. Next up for the Raiders is this weekend’s Cardinal and Gold Challenge featuring matches against Drake and Power 5 foes Iowa and Iowa State.
Green was able to get in the gym for about a week with his roster in the spring, his first chance to figure which pedals to push in getting Wright State on track with his vision. He took over for Allie Matters, who moved to Illinois State after four years with the Raiders.
“We were able to develop relationships then over the summer; one thing I’ve tried to be clear with is I was going to be who I am, but there is of course the balancing act with anytime there’s a coaching change – there were other relationships already built,” said Green, who also coached at South Florida and Florida International University. “I wanted to be honest and open about that; we know players had relationships with the other staff. It’s one reason we do what we do. Once we got into the season, we tried to put in the way we want to coach and work on a few different system things.
“One of the cool things about this transition to Wright State, there are players here who are very talented and skilled, but more important they are good people and have been extremely welcoming, open-minded, and a great testament to the group.”
Wright State is not interested in reversing recent progress, with the team reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2019 and 2020 and winning 23 matches a year ago. Green and his staff do have the comfort of gritty, seasoned and secure players with terrific resumes already in the gym, starting with fifth-year players Jenna Story (libero) and Lainey Stephenson (setter). Story is the three-time defending defensive player of the year from the Horizon League, and Stephenson is well on her way to the career assist mark with the program.
After the bump and the set, the offense is well-positioned with solid swings coming from seniors Megan Alders and Callie Martin, who were first and second in kills in 2021, and junior Sam Ott, the most recent Horizon League player of the week and the Western Michigan tourney MVP, where WSU went 3-0.
“Those players have been part of the recent success here, and it’s helpful for us to have that solid footing. With Jenna and Lainey, you have players who are going to touch the ball on essentially every point,” Green said. “That experience is critical, but the cool part is, there is a growth mindset here. In the period we’ve had with them, they still are learning and growing, and it’s (helpful) that those who have been playing volleyball for a long time are still interested in evolving.”
Not inconsequential for Green and his staff was the stabilizing and securing of the incoming freshman class. Coaching changes create territory where fresh recruits can be left adrift by the sudden appearance of an administration that had nothing to do with their recruiting, but Wright State is positioned to recharge the roster with five newcomers. Freshman Aaliyah Byers, a 6-foot middle, has played in all 19 sets so far and leads the team in blocks.
The Raiders, picked to finish third on the Horizon in the preseason coaches poll, start league play on the road Sept. 23-24 against preseason No. 7 (Cleveland State) and No. 6 (Oakland). Getting off to a good start would provide that extra dose of confidence that the coaching change has been managed and executed with the right tone and vision, and that the team understands the mission of getting better week by week.
“We’re going with a little bit faster offense; there’s been a committed transition to that, and I’m pleased with where we are there. We’ve been able to side-out at a high percentage and this weekend is a good test to see if that will hold against tougher competition,” Green added. “The biggest area we’ve been focusing on and curious about is our blocking and being more disciplined there. Also, what it will be like to see more physicality on the other side of the net and how we deal with that from an attacking standpoint.”