The CU women’s volleyball’s campaign in 2016 was a disappointment by many measures. Although the squad finished slightly below .500, the Buffs struggled mightily in their conference with a 6-14 record, and the team suffered many injuries over the course of the season.
Although the year may not have gone as planned, head coach Jesse Mahoney feels the team improved. The coach also feels that there were many positives to build on following his first season.
“There was growth in the gym and culture, we definitely got better and more efficient as [the season] went on,” he said.
Mahoney also cited several returning players on the team as reason to remain optimistic.
“Gabby Simpson was obviously a difference maker, Alexa Smith was also someone who filled a void and has many good things to come,” he said.
Mahoney himself is no stranger to improvement and building an elite team, especially from the ground up. While coaching at Fort Hays State, he completed one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA women’s volleyball history by transforming a team that was an embarrassing 1-28 in 2000, into a team that was 18-13 in 2001. By his final season there, in 2004, they had improved to an outstanding 31-5.
One of the things to which Mahoney attributes the remarkable change was in the locker room atmosphere.
“Obviously when you’re underperforming there’s no quick fix. It starts with the staff and culture,” he said.
One of the people Mahoney attributes his success and coaching philosophy to is Colorado State head coach Tom Hilbert, who he worked under during his time at CSU. Hilbert, the 33-year coaching veteran, ranks 15th all-time for winning percentage in NCAA women’s volleyball history. He was also someone who contributed to Mahoney’s growth.
“Well you don’t win that many games on accident. Tom definitely does a lot right. One of the things he did, that I liked, was giving assistants the flexibility to collaborate,” Mahoney said.
This is really put on display at the team’s practices, as he trusts his assistants to run drills independent from what he’s focused on. It seems that the assistant coaches are really able to coach in the area they’re most fit to instruct.
For example, while Mahoney was simulating in-game situations with several of the players on one court, assistant coach Lee Maes was running a spiking drill on the other end that focused on technique. In the drill, he was able to give each individual player detailed instructions, and it was clear that each player improved as time progressed. Based on how practice ran, it was evident that Mahoney had a lot of confidence and trust in his assistants, which emphasized the importance of creating a stable environment for the players.
“I’m very lucky to have the coaching staff I have,” he said.
His staff includes Maes, whose resume includes twenty-five years of coaching experience, including time at national powerhouses Louisville and Virginia.
It also features assistant coach Evan Sanders, who enjoyed success as a player at CSU and Washington, and a volunteer assistant at Texas.
When asked about the impact these two have had, Mahoney spoke very highly of them both.
“Lee is a great resource, having had great success as a coach at the college level. I also think Evan is a great role model for the girls. She was someone who had great success as a player at the college level and can lead the way for them,” Mahoney said.
One of the things that makes coaching at CU such an accomplishment for Mahoney is the fact that he’s a Boulder native. This has made his time in Boulder that much more special.
“Every day, when I drive past the Flatirons, it’s a surreal feeling. There’s definitely a fairytale element to it,” he said.
When asked about the direction the team was going in, Mahoney talked about his optimism for the upcoming season.
“I’m excited. We’ve got good competition, have added new pieces, have gotten players healthy and are working hard.”
Contact CU Independent sports staff writer Jack Stern at email@example.com.