The Louisiana College Wildcat volleyball program came into existence in 2016. I reached out to Coach Brittany Salloum so she could provide some insight into another story I’m writing but she ended up giving me so much good material that I thought another story on just the Wildcats and their unique challenges was required. After all, how many West Region Division III programs get started from nothing?
Generally speaking for me, one of the hardest steps in doing anything is the start. Going from 1 to 2 can take as long as going from 2 to 100. Often there are many attempts of going from 1 to 2 in my world as my computer’s trash bin can attest, but when it came to Louisiana College they would have just one shot at starting their volleyball program. They decided to start as a club as opposed to just diving into the Division III world. Coach Salloum said that this first year was a lot of fun, contained lots of laughs and skill sets grew tremendously, but it really didn’t help the program move into that next phase. The problem wasn’t so much the decision to play club but the realization that there wasn’t a lot of volleyball near Pineville, Louisiana. The club team basically had to play all comers regardless of the talent (or lack thereof) across the net. It’s interesting to note that only one player (Mary Nichols) was still with the team through 2018 that went through the initial club year and she will be focusing on her studies and leaving the program in 2019.
Recruiting is difficult even for coaches that have elite volleyball programs. A lot of times it simply comes down to whether the Prospective Student-Athlete (PSA) can afford to attend. Now throw in a first-year program playing in a difficult conference (ASC) and recruiting would have to be near impossible. Coach Salloum had to sell her PSAs on the “silver lining”. She added, “I was asking them to do something very difficult, but I was also asking them to be the first. They are laying the foundation for what this program will be when they are no longer a part of it, nor am I. They’re creating culture, vision, values, etc. And each time they achieve something, they’re the first ones to do it.” A powerful message but it takes a special type of PSA to be willing to tackle it. To this point, Coach Salloum now says that these past few years have taught her to focus more on “personalities of the players and their contribution to the team in ways other than point-scoring.” She still obviously looks for talent, but a PSA on a new program needs to be special and bring more to the table than one would to an established program.
Motivation was another topic we touched on and this has to be difficult in the early years of a new volleyball program. Coach Salloum says it was difficult to motivate her players at times as “losing pretty much all the time takes its toll.” The team tried to set goals but early on they were sort of abstract and hard to measure. With a little success now, the team is starting to figure it out. It certainly had to help in year one of Division III Play that the Wildcats won their final two matches after losing their first 23 matches on the year. Coach Salloum did say that this created a lot of momentum before turn-over on the roster depleted some of it. She went on to praise her “core group of very dedicated players who want to succeed and leave their mark on this program.” Obviously Mary Nichols was part of this core and I asked Coach Salloum for a little more about her. She replied, “She is the very definition of the words selfless, team player and teammate. She works as hard as she can every second; she gives nothing less than her full effort. She helped the team focus on the bright spots of our season, our improvement, and the opportunity they each have. I am so glad to have coached her and we will miss her this season.” With 5 wins last season including 3 in conference, Coach Salloum is hopeful that year four will be their year to make the next step.
I’ve been thinking a lot about scheduling lately so I asked about the difficulties in scheduling for a new program. It obviously helps the Wildcats to be part of the ASC as the conference scheduling fills up a lot of the weekends. Coach Salloum did say that it is difficult to find different opponents to play but it’s more about their location and not wanting to be on the road for excessive amounts of time. Louisiana College is 124 miles south east of Centenary College and slightly further from their nearest ASC rivals. Belhaven University (another ASC rival) is 189 miles to east. Yikes! She indicated that a handful of schools have been happy to host us because they like “a guaranteed win” at the end of their tournament. Although she understands that it’s “just the name of the game”, she is confident that this dynamic will be changing very soon.
I do want to save some of the comments Coach Salloum said for my other article but I did ask her about any unique problems she encountered jumping into this unique situation and she replied, “Oh my gosh. I can’t respond to this question in a way that is appropriate for publication.” She went on to say, “I have learned a lot, but it has been rewarding in ways I didn’t expect. Everyday there is something new that happens that shocks me, then I think, I’ve seen it all. I simply cannot be shocked by anything else. Then someone walks in my office, and there I am again, shocked. Coaching young people is fun. Working at a college is fun. My day’s are filled with shock and fun.”
“Shock and fun” sounds like an intriguing war cry for the Wildcats moving forward. The trick will be to “shock” their opponents more as they add to their 7 program victories starting up again in the fall. I may have buried the lead but the Wildcats did only miss out on the conference tournament by one match last season and you have to think this is a goal the Wildcats will be shooting for this year. That would be pretty impressive for a program that started with club play in 2016 and initially “were just happy when they got the ball up in the air.”