Turning Volleyball Into A Winner
Nov. 13, 2011
NC State (18-11 overall, 6-10 ACC) vs. Georgia Tech (15-12, 8-8)
RALEIGH, N.C. – A few weeks ago, after NC State’s volleyball team earned a hard-fought 3-1 victory over Boston College, Kelly Wood’s mother mentioned to the senior defensive specialist that the win assured the Wolfpack of its first winning season since 1996.
Wood broke down and cried, knowing that she and her fellow teammates had accomplished a goal that was seemingly impossible just a few years ago for a program that has had little success over the last two decades.
“It was just so emotional,” Wood said. “I had to let it out.
“We’ve come so far. We deserved getting to that point so much, after all we have been through during our careers and all that others had been through before us.”
Wood expects more tears today as the Wolfpack hosts Georgia Tech in a nationally televised contest at Reynolds Coliseum. The program will honor its four seniors, the foundation that helped change one of the least successful programs in ACC history into a winner in just two years.
Wood, of Yadkinville, N.C., and middle blocker Margaret Salata of Buffalo Grove, Ill., have been part of the program for four seasons. Prior to their arrival, the Wolfpack had won just five matches in the previous two seasons. It had won just one ACC match in seven years, with 127 losses in 128 league contests.
“We came here to make a difference,” Salata said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that we will go out as winners.”
As freshmen, they won nine overall matches and three ACC matches. There was a coaching change after their sophomore seasons, when the team was 5-27 and 1-19.
“It was hard to see an upside of where the program was going,” said Salata. “But we were ready for a change.”
Bryan Bunn, a veteran head coach with roots in Texas and Florida, was hired to rebuild the program. Salata and Wood were among the select few previous players who remained on the roster.
Among the newcomers he brought into the program were Luciana Shafer of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., and Becah Fogle of Leander Texas. Shafer had played two years at UNC Greensboro and Fogle had been a starter for two seasons at Colorado.
They both made big impacts last season, with Shafer starting every contest and Fogle taking a leadership position, until a knee injury against Wake Forest ended her season.
“I wanted to be a part of building something here,” Fogle said. “I thought we could be successful.”
Last year’s Pack finished 14-18, with more wins than any NC State team since 1999, including four against ACC competition. With 11 newcomers added to this year’s roster, the veterans were ready to move the program on the winning path.
A loss in the season-opening match against Appalachian State suggested the team perhaps hadn’t advanced as much as Bunn hoped. Except that the team, still playing without a recovering Fogle in the lineup, reeled off a school-record 13 consecutive wins in September and October.
That streak finally ended against Maryland, in the Pack’s second ACC match. But a new one began as the Wolfpack played in a school- and ACC-record six straight five-set matches. The Pack lost five of those marathons, but Bunn could see that his young squad was learning to win in tough conditions.
The Pack won three conference road matches in the first half of the season, beating Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. That equaled the number of ACC road wins in the previous 14 seasons combined.
On Friday, the Wolfpack defeated Clemson for the first time since 1997, ending a 27-match losing streak to the Tigers. More importantly, it recorded its sixth win in ACC play, matching the single-season school record for league victories. It’s the most since the 1995 squad posted a 6-8 league mark.
Now, as the Wolfpack prepares to play the Yellow Jackets, the coaching staff will celebrate the four seniors who have toiled to make this a winning program, after years at the bottom of the ACC heap.
“This has been a great experience and I’m happy to have been a part of it,” Shafer said. “We all accepted the challenge of helping rebuild the program and I think we have made a good start. It’s definitely been rewarding.”
Neither Bunn nor his players are completely satisfied with their accomplishments this season. And there are still four more matches to play. They are, however, happy with the direction and demeanor of the program.
“Any successful sports team has to have players who are able to get on board with what we are trying to do as coaches,” Bunn said. “This team has been good at doing that for the last two years.
“They work hard, they listen and they do what we ask. We still have a long way to go, but I’m please with where we are headed.”
As emotional as Wood expects to be after her career is done, the avowed gym rat expects to be in Reynolds for years to come, watching the Wolfpack exceed this year’s accomplishments.
“I want to be able to come back, watch them win and say ‘Yep, we still got it going,’” Wood said. “I want to be here when we win another ACC championship and go back to the NCAA tournament.
“It will be good to know that we played a role in getting that started.”