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The Bradsher Beat
Friday, July 25, 2008

By Bethany Bradsher

Coaching: More than meets the eye

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Spend more than 10 minutes in the presence of any college coach, and you lose count of the number of hats he or she wears.

On any given day, a coach, especially of an Olympic sport with a smaller staff, might be strategist, motivator, counselor, tutor and friend. But in the summer time, the jack-of-all-trades identity takes on a whole new meaning.

East Carolina volleyball coach Chris Rushing became a high school tour guide in Dallas, and the coach of a wildly successful 16-and-under squad. ECU soccer coach Rob Donnenwirth learned that the dormitory water supply could be the root of more than one crisis.

Along the way, these coaches sharpened their leadership skills and forged relationships with talented young women who could one day wear a Pirates uniform.

Rushing, who is starting his fourth season at the helm of the ECU volleyball program, has been part of volleyball’s growth as a youth sport in Eastern North Carolina. Thanks to expanding rec leagues and the growing popularity of travel clubs like Rushing’s East Carolina Junior Volleyball Club, he said that the level of play is stronger at a younger age than ever before.

It was in Dallas early this month where Rushing saw firsthand how far the sport has come in the junior ranks. First, his 16-and-under ECJVC squad qualified for the Junior Olympics with a second-place finish at a spring tournament in Atlanta. They threw themselves into fundraising to offset their travel costs, and on June 30 they flew to the Lone Star State, where they turned heads by finishing 10-1 and earning a bronze medal in their age group.

“I wasn’t too surprised that we qualified for the Junior Olympics, but the big surprise was, going into the tournament I didn’t think we were going to win a bronze medal,” Rushing said. “They started believing that they weren’t the underdogs anymore, and I think that just makes you better when you’re playing with that confidence.”

Two of his players, Caroline Douglas and Pammy Craigle, were named to the Junior Olympic All-Tournament Team. In the course of their season, the 16-under team amassed more than 60 wins and only eight losses, and the team is full of young women with an excellent chance of playing at the college level.

“I’d take that any day in my normal job at ECU,” Rushing said of the travel team’s success. “I think any coach at any level would take that record.”

Some of Rushing’s other summer roles include the organizer of two volleyball day camps – one for high school and one for younger players – and the ever-present recruiting responsibilities. Most of his players have been here this summer conditioning and assisting with the ECU camps, but the entire team reports to begin its preseason paces on August 7.

Rushing certainly explored some unexpected nuances of his job, but the winner of the best “How I spent my summer vacation” story has to be Donnenwirth.

Donnenenwirth has weathered all kinds of storms through a decade at ECU, and his sport is the only one on campus that still invites athletes as young as nine to come spend a week in a dorm for an overnight camp. So when he drove home at about 12:30 the first night of camp on June 22, he had every reason to anticipate a smooth week until he got a phone call later that night from assistant coach Rich Stoneman.

Stoneman reported a mishap that was forcing 150 young soccer players to relocate in the dead of night.

“He said, ‘I have bad news. The pipes burst on the eighth floor of Tyler.’ We had to move the whole camp in the middle of the night to Scott Hall. I’m driving back up and I see a line of 150 campers trying to get keys for their new room, and they didn’t get to bed until around 4 in the morning.”

The coaches called off the next morning’s session so that their campers could get some sleep. The coaches and campers then settled into their routine – until the third day of camp, when Donnenwirth received word that the City of Greenville had found a contaminant in the water supply and issued a boil advisory until further notice.

For this, his second water calamity in a few days, Donnenwirth sprang into action, stopping by a drugstore to spend $400 on every bottle of water they had. Much of that supply is still stored in his garage, because the soccer training staff took the time to drive 30 minutes to head trainer Mike Hanley’s house – outside of Greenville – to get clean water for the camp’s workout sessions.

By the time the girls performed their special skits in the camp’s talent show on closing night, Donnenwirth felt like marathon recruiting trips and the season that opens on August 5 can’t possibly rattle him after the “craziest week of camp we’ve ever had.”

“I think we’re just about ready for anything now,” he said.

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07/28/2008 01:51:29 AM

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