Club SportsSports

Oregon women’s club volleyball rally together following coach’s departure

At an Oregon women’s club volleyball practice, head coach Mallory Stark allowed her players to run the drills by themselves while she stood back and observed. When it ended, she gathered all the team members together and announced her difficult decision to step down from the program.

Stark lent a tremendous amount of time to the team over the previous six years, but could no longer continue as head coach due to personal reasons. With just three tournaments remaining in the season, searching for a replacement was not a viable option.

Prior to Stark’s departure, the players voted seniors Brooke Baldwin and Meredith St. Clair team captains for the year. Without a coach at the helm, the two seniors found themselves atop the chain of command.

With an expanded scope of responsibilities, Baldwin and St. Clair ran into their fair share of difficulties. They struggled to step back and see games from a coaching standpoint because, as players, they were acclimated to being physically and mentally invested in each play. Decisions such as when to call timeout, whether to make a substitution and what to say during a team huddle are details they now had to consider even during the heat of battle. They also experienced the burden of being the authority when other players slacked off in practice or struggled in games.

“As captains, our role was to lead the team in morale, on the court and off,” St. Clair said. “Having to tell your friend, who you’ve been playing with for awhile, that they’re not going to play a match—that’s hard.”

“We’re trying to do our best. Sometimes, it’s like, how the hell do we know if it’s the right thing?”

Baldwin and St. Clair took their leadership roles seriously at the UC Davis tournament, the team’s first showcase without a coach. They met the night before and morning of each game to go over housekeeping items, prepare lineups and substitutes, and discuss their strategic approach for the match. To their pleasure, Oregon won its pool on day one of the tournament. It ultimately fell in the quarterfinal round.

Following the tournament, the captains employed a democratic approach to govern the team. They surveyed their teammates after matches in order to determine which areas they can collectively improve upon. Intrinsically motivated, the players did not require an enforcing presence to hold themselves to high standards.

“People are actually playing better now that there isn’t someone watching over,” St. Clair said. “Now, we’re really playing for each other, for the team.”

After working out the kinks from its tournament at UC Davis, the team exceeded its expectations at its following tournament in Las Vegas. In a field of more than 30 teams, Oregon finished second place with a loss in the championship round. The players maintained their composure and emerged victorious in several close matches, proving they could hang with the best of the best.

Oregon will travel to Kansas City this weekend for the National Collegiate Volleyball Federation national tournament. Although a head coach won’t make the trip with them, the women are more confident heading into the tournament this year than in any of the previous three.

“The stakes are high and this is our last tournament,” St. Clair said. “It’s the perfect season, the perfect team to go. I couldn’t have asked for a more awesome team to finish off with.”

Follow Kenny Jacoby on Twitter @kennyjacoby

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Kenny Jacoby

Kenny Jacoby

Kenny is the senior sports editor for the Emerald. He spent two years studying computer and information science before changing his major to journalism. He also freelances for the Register-Guard, interns for the Eugene Weekly and works as a research assistant for UO journalism professor Seth Lewis.