Paula Weishoff: A Habit of Winning

March 01, 2017 - 4 minute read


Paula Weishoff with her star players

Paula Weishoff is one of the most decorated players in U.S. volleyball history, with three Olympic medals and two Olympic MVP awards. From 2004-2008 she helped establish CUI’s women’s volleyball program as one of the top in the NAIA. Now, after six years away, Weishoff has returned to CUI, and under her leadership the Eagles captured the PacWest Conference title in their second year as an NCAA Division 2 team.

“We’re ecstatic with how it went,” Weishoff says. “We knew what we wanted to do. It’s easy to say but not as easy to put it into action. The whole journey we took one piece at a time, which is how you should approach it rather than looking at the big picture. We focused on match to match, practice to practice. We didn’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The Eagles won their first eight matches (on their way to a 26-3 overall record) and finished the season with a strong run that culminated in their winning the conference—a remarkable accomplishment given how recently the team began playing in NCAA Division 2.

Then again, Weishoff is accustomed to playing at a high level. In 1984, at age 22, Weishoff played for Team USA at the Olympics and earned the Most Valuable Player of the team award. The U.S. took silver in those games. Eight years later in Barcelona, Spain, Weishoff guided Team USA to a bronze medal and was voted the MVP of the 1992 Games. In 1996, she again played for the Olympic team, in Atlanta.

Weishoff was inducted into the USA Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1998 and received the All-Time Great Player Award that same year.

Coaching was never a goal until she returned to USC to complete her degree. As a graduate assistant she joined the volleyball coaching staff.

I can actually take what I know and give it to someone else and help this person grow as a volleyball player.

“I had done a few camps and it felt like babysitting,” she says. “But once I got into the gym and saw what it really was, I fell in love with it. I can actually take what I know and give it to someone else and help this person grow as a volleyball player. The biggest thing is when you see someone get it—when the light bulb goes on. That’s the reward of coaching.”

She borrowed the best techniques from each of her coaches to create her own style.

“Effort and attitude are my two biggest things,” Weishoff says. “From there you can make progress. The rest is up to me and so we’re going to work on this and that technique. That’s the piece of the puzzle I like. My style of coaching is I don’t put people into a system, I create systems based on the talent I have.”

That’s what her Olympic coach did in 1992, developing a system around Paula who played in the middle of the court.

“I was unique in that I passed and played defense but also hit a slide very well, off of one leg,” she recalls. “I would pass in the middle of the court and run that play out of the center. He developed a unique system that you don’t even see today.”

He developed a unique system that you don’t even see today.

While Weishoff was on the coaching staff at USC, the Trojans won two national championships. Weishoff rose to the second highest coaching position in the program before coming to CUI.

“Going from a D1 championship to an NAIA program at the bottom of their conference—I was a little bit ignorant,” she admits. “I said, ‘I’m going to teach them the same thing, and tweak things based on the talent we had.’”

The Eagles not only made it to the NAIA championship match that year, they piled up a ridiculous record of 146-33 (.816) over five years, making Weishoff the winningest coach in school history.

“The kids worked hard and wanted to win,” she says. The team made the finals twice and the semifinals on two other occasions. Weishoff was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 2008.

Gary McDaniel, a longtime friend of Weishoff’s and CUI’s executive vice president, says, “I imagine most of the volleyball world knows that Paula knows her X’s and O’s of volleyball. What the volleyball world does not get to see is how she mentors young women through the sport of volleyball. Through the cheers and tears, the wins and losses, these young women have a coach who cares for them deeply.”

Weishoff took a different assignment in 2009, serving at UC Irvine for six years, and simultaneously as an assistant coach for the women’s national team for two seasons, helping the U.S. capture a silver medal at the 2012 London Games. It was Weishoff’s first appearance in the Olympics as a coach.

She then returned to Concordia in 2015, right when the school was switching conferences as part of its transition to the NCAA Division 2.

“The thing that intrigued me was they were going D2,” Weishoff says. “I walked in, met the girls and was like, ‘Wow, I’m really lucky.’ They come in and work hard from the get-go.”

There were challenges: “We didn’t know the teams [in the PacWest conference], or the travel schedule. Your pre-season is a lot shorter. In the last four matches our key member was down,” Weishoff says.

I said, ‘I have the best job in the whole world,’ and I thanked them every day for coming in and practicing.

The first year was a learning experience, but this past year the Eagles out-performed all expectations. The difference-maker was the seniors, who were driven to succeed.

“They did summer workouts and played together, and made sure they were ready when they came in,” Weishoff says. “They were very good at getting everybody on board. It was awesome. It made our lives a lot easier. You can just walk in the gym and coach. No drama. They worked hard.”

Weishoff’s coaching style is low-key, even tranquil. She and the players prayed every day before practice. “I said, ‘I have the best job in the whole world,’ and I thanked them every day for coming in and practicing,” Weishoff says. “I have a great coaching staff here. We’re also really good friends.”

A season-finale match against Point Loma sealed the conference title for the Eagles. Because CUI is in its second year of a three-year transition to NCAA Division 2, rules did not allow them to proceed to a national championship tournament.

That will have to wait for next year.

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