Grambling State’s volleyball program pushes ahead a 12 months after controversy

Spring season for Grambling State College’s volleyball program appears completely different from a 12 months in the past, with a brand new coach, new gamers and a brand new angle.

After spending final spring mired in controversy after then-head coach Chelsey Lucas reduce your complete roster, this system is now in a rebuilding part. Of their first common season below new head coach Paige Phillips, the Tigers completed third within the Southwestern Athletic Convention with their greatest document in additional than 10 years (15-12, 12-4 SWAC) earlier than making an early exit within the first spherical of the SWAC event in November.

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The workforce started spring exercises in February with one aim in thoughts: profitable this system’s first convention championship since 1997.

“I actually would hope for us to get a hoop subsequent season, however that begins by simply all people simply placing within the work, like, pushing every and all people on the court docket,” mentioned junior libero Nyah Ellis. “We’re actually, like, aggressive, so we be pushing one another in apply. So, if we will maintain that up and simply [have] constructive vitality then we will do something.”

It has been a quick turnaround for a program left reeling after months of turmoil final 12 months. Controversy enveloped Grambling State volleyball in April 2022 when Lucas determined to not renew the scholarship gamers recruited by the earlier teaching employees two months into her tenure as head coach.

The transfer left many former gamers scrambling for scholarships late into the spring. After a number of gamers and their dad and mom accused Lucas of intimidation, retaliation and unfairness, the college denied any wrongdoing and launched an inside investigation into the volleyball program in Could. Grambling State fired Lucas in July, attributing the choice to findings from the investigation, which continues to be ongoing. Thus far, the college hasn’t given particular causes for Lucas’ termination, and gamers have declined to talk about their former coach.

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Solely six of the 18 gamers from Grambling’s 2021 roster performed collegiate volleyball elsewhere in the course of the 2022 season. 5 gamers went to different traditionally Black faculties and universities within the SWAC, Mid-Japanese Athletic Convention and Central Intercollegiate Athletic Affiliation, and former Tigers setter Kalee Cadwell transferred to Louisiana Tech. Setter Sheila Borders was the one 2021 participant to return to Grambling State for the 2022 season.

Lucas’ firing left the workforce with out a head coach with the beginning of the season in August lower than a month and a half away. The brand new roster, recruited by Lucas earlier than her termination, consisted of Borders, 5 transfers from the College of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, six gamers from group faculties, three freshmen and two different Division I gamers.

They spent almost a month with out a head coach and accomplished summer time exercises below the scrutiny of nationwide media, which in the end helped them bond.

“We’re simply retaining issues like, retaining issues flowing. Like, we didn’t have a coach for a second, however we nonetheless had assist round and we nonetheless maintained and we nonetheless labored out. We at all times labored out, at all times seeing what we needed to do,” mentioned graduating senior and right-side hitter Future Thomas. “Don’t get me fallacious, like, it was enjoyable. It was an expertise. It was adversity, however no person shut down. No person broke down.”

Senior center blocker Haley Gomez mentioned coping with the backlash was initially tough as misinformation circulated within the media.

“All we may do was attempt to keep collectively as a workforce. We might have frequent workforce talks ensuring everybody was staying robust mentally. We determined as a workforce that we’d stick collectively and never let this distract us from our objectives,” Gomez mentioned.

“There have been 5 of us that transferred from UAPB, so we actually leaned on one another to remain robust and lead the workforce collectively. Total, coping with the negativity introduced the workforce collectively shortly, and I consider this helped us out so much in the course of the season.”

Grambling State introduced Phillips’ hiring on Aug. 9. The 25-year-old Phillips, who had spent 4 seasons as an assistant coach for North Carolina Central, was tasked with taking on regardless of having no head teaching expertise.

“I’ve labored below nice folks. They taught me the whole lot that I wanted to know. It’s simply type of taking a leap of religion and going for it,” Phillips mentioned. “It was like, if I wait one other 12 months, then a head teaching job might not come round in a 12 months or two, you already know, however I do know I finally need to be a head coach. I’ve completed the work to place myself in a head coach’s place. So, I’d as effectively take it and simply go from there.”

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North Carolina Central head volleyball coach Jody Brown, whom Phillips performed below and coached with, knew Phillips was ready to guide the Tigers – that’s why he and former Eagles athletic director Ingrid Wicker-McCree really helpful the younger coach for the Grambling opening.

“So far as the timing of the whole lot, she brings what they wanted and that was simply somebody who’s going to care extra concerning the children versus simply their teaching document,” Brown advised Andscape in November. “It’ll be extra concerning the workforce as an alternative of her. I believe that was the large factor. Loads of coaches suppose, you already know, it’s about them. Effectively, it’s not about them. It’s concerning the children.”

The season was not with out drama for Phillips because of the lingering aftermath of the college’s earlier teaching rent, questions surrounding Phillips’ age and the educational curve for the first-time head coach. Regardless of the inner and exterior pressures, she labored to stay a gentle presence for the gamers and refocus the workforce.

“Her greatest trait this 12 months was being calm, like, being calm in conditions, like, she didn’t get hectic. … When issues go fallacious, she’s like, ‘OK, guys, all people take a breath. You understand, we will discuss it,’ ” Thomas mentioned. “She didn’t freak out, she simply breathed. She’s a really affected person particular person, and it’s a great factor.”

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Studying below Phillips was an adjustment, Gomez mentioned.

“I used to be used to a special teaching model, simply as she adjusted to us. I actually appreciated her accepting us with such a constructive angle and placing us to work instantly,” Gomez mentioned. “She took what she was given and led us via a really profitable season.”

The turmoil the Tigers endured makes their third-place end within the SWAC much more spectacular, Gomez mentioned.

“I do know we may have completed the season on a better be aware within the SWAC event, however I hope subsequent 12 months the workforce remembers that feeling and makes use of it as motivation,” she mentioned.

Regardless of the disappointing event loss that ended the Tigers’ season, Thomas believes their success on the court docket was the equalizer for the whole lot they encountered earlier than the beginning of the autumn semester.

“It’s actually what you make it. Like, we may’ve went down this street depressed or we may maintain going. You push it to the top. … All of us had the identical finish aim, so it made it simpler for us. Everyone knows what we needed,” Thomas mentioned. “When the whole lot occurred, we had been robust already, so, like, it actually didn’t have an effect on something. We simply knew our aim. All of us had one finish aim: to win and maintain going.”

Trayvean Scott, Grambling State’s vp of intercollegiate athletics, was on the lookout for a brand new coach with integrity, accountability and excellence. He believes he has discovered all of these issues with Phillips’ rent.

In a short while, the volleyball program lastly has met the athletic division’s expectations, he mentioned.

“We discuss what’s necessary now. We at all times discuss the identical degree of expectations throughout the board in each sport. She’s been in a position to are available and create expectations and now attempt to stretch these objectives and exceed these expectations in making a constant winner in a volleyball program,” Scott mentioned.

Gomez, a graduating senior for the Tigers, is aware of the workforce pulling collectively and rallying on the court docket this season laid a robust basis for the Tigers to win.

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“Having an ideal first season positively helped to set the inspiration for the way forward for Grambling volleyball. We modified the workforce tradition for the higher and set an expectation for each season to come back,” Gomez mentioned. “The expectation to not solely compete at a excessive degree but additionally beat nice groups outdoors of our convention will profit this system for years to come back.”

Phillips is filling out her recruiting class, looking for an assistant coach and finalizing the Tigers’ spring recreation schedule, which begins in mid-April – issues she couldn’t do throughout her first season as a result of she joined this system so hurriedly in early August.

“Chelsey did herald an ideal group of women. I’m not gonna put her down for that. She positively did. However now they’re mine, and I’ve led them previous this level,” Phillips mentioned. “I’ve put my very own stamp on it as a result of I’m doing this each single day. … I gotta lead them via apply [and] I acquired to educate them via video games.”

Phillips discovered so much throughout her first season main the Tigers, and with the drama seemingly behind them, she hopes to construct on this system’s momentum.

“This group, they’re actually hungry simply because they see what their potential is and what they’ll do,” she mentioned. “So I’m actually excited for subsequent season. I do know they’re able to play.”

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