Setting a Winning Legacy

March 01, 2017 - 3 minute read

Women's volleyball setting a winning legacy

I played softball for ten years and was being recruited by colleges when I was just fourteen. The pressure was intense—pitching lessons, hitting lessons, daily practice. Finally, I stopped enjoying the sport. When the high school volleyball coach invited me to try out, I gave it a shot and fell in love with it.

People close to me warned, “You can’t switch. You won’t find anywhere to go to college.” I responded, “Watch me.”

CUI recruited me and I was really excited to come to the school. The campus was beautiful and the athletic opportunities were just what I was looking for. But for the first couple of years the volleyball program was in a rebuilding phase. Then they brought in Paula Weishoff—a legend of the sport. We knew she had been at CUI before and created a winning legacy. So I was excited— and nervous.

Paula met with us individually, and when I shook her hand I saw the Olympic Rings tattooed on her wrist. I knew about her two medals (and a third as a coach in 2012). I was so intimidated I thought I was going to babble on and on from sheer nervousness. Just looking at Paula, you see how strong she is inside and out. I couldn’t believe this was our head coach. I told Rachel Flynn, my co-captain, “I’m going to have to communicate daily with this woman. I have to act like I know my stuff.”

What impressed me right away was how in control of her emotions Paula is, and how she knows how to handle us as individuals. She and her coaching staff watched us practice, sat us down and said, “There are some things we need to change.” It was a long process. We had to believe they had our best interests in mind and knew what they were talking about. We had fallen into a routine.

For example, Paula insisted that we not simply dive for the ball but rather extend through it in a more explosive move. I realized we had gotten into the habit of merely falling toward the ball like a tree toppling over. Paula made it clear: she was all about effort and hard work. “If you give me good effort and have a good attitude, you’re going to be just fine,” she told us often.

We had a hard time closing games that 2015-16 season. We were new to the NCAA and kind of scared. We would get up in games, then fall apart. Our record was a pretty dismal 16-14. But we trusted the coaching staff. Paula was so calm, patient and understanding. She listened and wasn’t quick to judge. She didn’t like punishment, really. She was more about fixing, learning and teaching. Her praise was game-changing for us.

We still have a lot of season left. We are in control of what we do.

I’ve also never had a coach who knew our bodies so well. She always asked how we were, and if we were sore, she gave us light practices or film to watch. She knew when we needed rest.

Between seasons, the other seniors and I worked hard to ready ourselves. We practiced together informally on the beach, which made us quicker on the court, and we lifted a lot of weights. We were a tightknit group and wanted to set standards and relationships for girls coming in. Our goal: to win the conference.

From the start, our system worked. We were beating good teams. Our tempo was good. The strong chemistry between players and coaches showed on the court. We truly were a family. There was never a time I didn’t want to come to practice.

After a painful loss at home to Cal Baptist, Paula told us, “I know it hurts but we can’t look to the past. We still have a lot of season left. We are in control of what we do.”

That perspective made all the difference. We put together another winning streak. Before one of our final games at Point Loma, we knew that winning would make us conference champions. Paula told us before the game, “We have a chance to do something really special. Go out there and play hard, exactly as you’ve been doing all season.”

We played a fantastic match, and on the verge of winning I turned to my co-captain Rachel and said, “I’m going to cry.” She replied, “Hold it for two more points.”

We emerged victorious—my first championship ever. Finishing my athletic career on top was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, but it wasn’t just about an individual goal. I wanted to win for Paula because she had rebuilt our team.

Taylor Dennison is a communication studies major graduating in May.

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