Rebuilding a program, especially one with the storied history of WSU Volleyball, does not happen overnight. Yet, Cougar volleyball has more momentum heading into the fourth season under head coach Jen Greeny than at any point during the past decade.
And there are no signs of it slowing down as Greeny recently signed a contract extension that will take the Cougar alumnae through the spring of 2018.
It wasn't that long ago that Washington State University volleyball was on the national stage, reaching the NCAA tournament eight times in a 10-year span (1993-2002), including two Elite Eight appearances (1996, 2002). Since that time the Cougars have reached the postseason once, a first-round appearance in 2009.
While 2009 had many highlights, the momentum could not be sustained and following the 2010 season, a change in the direction of the program occurred. Enter Greeny, a three-time All-Pacific-10 Conference selection who concluded her Cougar career in 1999 ranked among the school's all-time leaders in block assists (3rd/360), total blocks (4th/419) and solo blocks (7th/59).
Greeny was named the Cougars' 12th head coach near the end of the 2011 spring semester, charged with reviving a program that less than a decade earlier had reached the 2002 Elite Eight, with Greeny on the staff as an assistant coach.
"I was a part of some very good teams when I played and coached here previously," she said. "I understand what it takes to be successful at this level and it's not just having good players. It's building a complete program, one that is based on accountability, hard work and commitment. That is what we are building here and I feel we are very much on the right track."
The improvements have not been limited solely to on-court successes, though there have been many. Rather, they have been program wide, including academics, graduation rate and recruiting.
In terms of Academic Progress Rate (APR), the program has shown great improvement since taking over the program. In Greeny's first three full years the team's APR scores have been 939 in 2011-12, a perfect 1,000 in 2012-13 and is projected to be 1,000 for the 2013-14 academic year. Compare that with the previous three years when the APR score went down each year, from 957 in 2008-09 to 935 in 2009-10 to a program-low 837 in 2010-11. The latter number cemented by the time Greeny took control of the program in late spring of 2011.
The APR is an annual assessment of each team's academic and retention history. The overall APR score is based on the most recent four years of data (2009-10, 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13). Every year thereafter, the most current year's data will be added and the oldest year of data will be removed, creating a four-year rolling rate. WSU's most recent four-year APR score of 929 will rise dramatically over the next two years as scores of 935 and 837, both occurring under the prior staff, are replaced with scores projected to be well above those.
"I applaud the volleyball staff for the attention they have given academics," said Faculty Athletic Representative Ken Casavant, a position appointed by the WSU President. "They have placed a high importance on academic success in the recruiting process and it is shown with the marked improvements in both grade point average and APR."
Cougar volleyball has seen a tremendous surge in the team grade point average since Greeny and her staff began. In their first full semester (fall 2011), the team GPA rose from a program-low 1.96 in spring 2011, to a 3.00 that fall. It marked the first of five straight semesters the team GPA has grown under Greeny, including a 3.28 in fall 2013, the highest in program history.
Last semester also marked the first time since fall 2008 that volleyball's team GPA was higher than all female student-athletes at WSU and was also the third-straight semester it was above all female students at WSU. Additionally, nine student-athletes have been recognized on Pac-12 All-Academic teams in the last three years, including two first-team selections, after a combined three in the previous two years before the current staff arrived.
In the five semesters since taking control of the program (spring 2014 will not be finalized until the conclusion of summer session), the program has twice been recognized with the Seehafer Academic Award, bestowed upon one team in the athletic department that has demonstrated the most significant improvement or achievement.
On the court the gains have been equally impressive. Taking over a program that went 6-22 overall, 0-18 in Pac-12 play the year before the current staff came on board, the rebuilding process has been focused, strategic and swift. It began in the spring of 2011 when the staff's focus immediately turned to the 2013 recruiting class. Though more than two years away, it was the foundation of what was to come, and it did not disappoint. With six signees, the class was ranked as the nation's 14th-best recruiting class, according to PrepVolleyball.com, and the impact was immediate.
While the 2013 season could be deemed a success, the rebuilding process is still in full swing. The core of the program is underclassmen, led by a trio of players named to the 2013 All-Pac-12 Freshmen teams. Sophomore Kyra Holt was named the AVCA Region I Freshman of the Year in 2013, a first for the program, while also being named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman First Team, a first for the program since 2003, and the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week four times.
The Cougars will add a pair of incoming freshmen for 2014, with Casey Schoenlein, a 6-5 outside hitter from Issaquah, Wash., who was a top 60 national recruit according to PrepVolleyball.com; Haylee Mathis, a 5-11 setter from Strasburg, Ill.; Ashley Vander Tuig, a 6-2 middle blocker from Tulare, Calif.; and Arlicia Ortiz, a 5-4 defensive specialist from Spanaway, Wash., all set to join the program this summer. The team will again be young with the majority of players being underclassmen, but the experience gained last season combined with the talent, work ethic and commitment in the program reminds Greeny of her previous years at WSU.
"I see many similarities with where our program is headed and what we had when I was here before," she said. "It's a commitment to team goals on and off the court, in the classroom, in the community. It's having a shared vision and working in that direction as one unit, all striving for the common goal of getting better each and every practice. The foundation has been set and in a very short time this program will return to a level all Cougar fans and alumni can be proud of."