New volleyball coaching staff ready to make a difference

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    Women’s indoor volleyball gained an all new coaching staff that is set to guide TCU volleyball to national prominence.

    According to a press release sent on Dec. 1, TCU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Del Conte announced Prentice Lewis, former women’s head volleyball coach, would not return next season. Abigail Norman, assistant media relations director, confirmed that former associate head coach Jason Tanaka and former assistant coach Lauren Otto would also not return.

    The search began immediately for the new volleyball coaching staff.

    The new staff

    Jillian Kramer, a former Horned Frog, returns to familiar territory as Director of Volleyball and women’s indoor volleyball coach for the Frogs.

    “The university and the volleyball program is very near and dear to my heart,” Kramer said. “There is nothing more I would rather do with my coaching career than bring TCU volleyball to national prominence.”

    Kramer is the third head coach of the volleyball program since its inception in 1996. In her previous five seasons, Kramer served as head coach of the volleyball program at West Virginia.

    Sara Matthews will hold the position of assistant coach and recruiting coordinator.

    Matthews worked alongside Kramer for three seasons at West Virginia under the same title. Kramer said she knew she wanted Matthews to join her in the transition to coaching at TCU.

    “She did such a great job as our recruiting coordinator at West Virginia, so I knew immediately that she is who I wanted to hire,” Kramer said.

    Brian Wright will also be an assistant coach.

    Wright spent his last seven years as a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Texas.

    “Brian was someone I wanted to hire at WVU but it was not the right fit for him,” Kramer said. “Before I ever had a chance to call him, he called me. I knew this was the place he would want to be.”

    Sha’Dare McNeal will be Director of Operations and assistant coach for sand volleyball.

    Kramer says it is really important to get young inspiring volleyball coaches like McNeal into the coaching ranks.

    “She is someone that I coached against when she played at Texas and I coached at WVU,” she said. “I could tell the impact she made from the previous year to that year, and I could also tell the impact she made by her departure the following year. I knew she was someone I wanted involved in the program.”

    McNeal joins the Frog’s staff after spending a year as a volunteer assistant coach at Wake Forest. Before coaching, McNeal played a year professionally in Bolozano, Italy, with Naruda Volley and played for the 2013 U-23 Women’s National Team that finished fourth at the Inaugural 2013 U-23 World Championships in Mexico.

    Kramer said when selecting the staff members, it was important for her to have people that were familiar with the Big 12 Conference.

    “Our goal is to be a nationally prominent volleyball program, and we know that to do that we also need to be extremely competitive in the Big 12 Conference,” Kramer said. “I love the fact that everyone on our staff has strong ties to the Big 12 Conference and knows the landscape of the league very well, whether it be as a player, a coach or both.”

    Becoming a team

    A majority of the team worked with the previous coaching staff and developed relationships with them. With an all new coaching staff, Kramer said the challenge is building trust.

    “We try and spend as much time with them that we can off the court and be consistent with them every day when we go into the gym,” she said. “I think consistency builds trust.”

    Sophomore Sarita Mikals said the transition to a new coaching staff has been fairly easy.

    “They [the coaches] have been helpful and the team mindset has been very positive about it all,” Mikals said. “Their doors are always open, they want to call meetings to see how we are doing in school and want to know about our personal lives.”

    Mikals said the change in coaching staff has not been a setback.

    “Getting the new coaching staff when we did was a good thing; we are rebuilding,” she said. “We are ready to make a difference now.”

    During spring season, Kramer said the team travels in vans on all trips to improve team dynamics. She wants the team to be in a smaller, more intimate environment.

    “You get on a bus and you spread out, stretch out, or everyone is asleep. We want to keep a closer environment for conversations.”

    Kramer said that as far as staff goes, communication is important.

    “It is really important as staff that we are on the same page,” she said. “We are trying to build two programs, so it is a lot of time and a lot of moving pieces. Communication becomes even more important than it normally is.”

    Moving forward

    The Horned Frogs are coming off a 17-15 overall record in the 2014-15 season. Their record was 6-10 in conference play.

    Kramer said to pursue excellence, the team must have a relentless attitude on and off the courts.

    Moving forward into the 2015-16 season, Kramer said it is easy to say we want to win championships.

    “Everyone wants that,” she said. “But what we really want to do is get the right people here, with the right kind of character, the right kind of work ethics. And we put that all together and we go out there and we play the very best volleyball we can.”

    Mikals said the staff pushes the team to do more than the team thinks they can but the coaches know they can.

    In the off-season, Mikals said the team has already made progress.

    “Everyone’s vertical has increased an inch to inch and a half,” Mikals said. “We’re doing all this hard work and seeing that it is paying off makes me want to work even more.”

    Kramer said she is looking forward to a season of re-building, forging relationships and playing some championship TCU volleyball.