Luenemann reflects on winning the title and coach of the year
Fresh off of his third national championship at Washington University, women’s volleyball head coach Rich Luenemann was named American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) National Coach of the Year on Nov. 24. Luenemann won the award twice before, after the 2003 and 2007 national titles. Luenemann recently sat down with Student Life to talk about this incredible season, how it felt to coach this team, and the future of Wash. U. women’s volleyball.
Student Life: Right after the championship, it sounded a lot like what you all had just accomplished hadn’t really hit any of you yet. I take it that it’s kind of set in since then?
Rich Luenemann: The championship match ended on a rather odd note. When the ball was served into the net, it was kind of anticlimactic, and everyone was like, “is that it?” I really appreciate how the University community has welcomed the team back and has gone out of their way to talk to the players about how well they did. And I know they’re so proud.
SL: You’ve been here for a while. Wash. U. has a strong team year in and year out, and even then, chances are you’re not going to win the national title every year. Having coached national championship teams before, when did you know that this team was special in the sense that you knew that they could go all the way?
RL: Oddly enough, you used that word “special,” because at our preseason cookout in late August, I made the comment that I have a very special feeling about this team. And again, the feeling began with the leadership that the captains were showing. I do believe that it’s very possible that the three captains we had this year were the best combination of captains I’ve had in all the years that I’ve coached. And then from there, we looked at the chemistry the team enjoyed; everyone was on the same page, everyone had the same agenda whether they were a starter or a reserve. It was all for one and one for all, and that led us throughout the season quite well. We encountered those injuries, we had so many challenges throughout the season, so many challenges, and each challenge the team met, they overcame.
SL: Is there anything that differentiates this team from the teams you had in 2003 and 2007, which also brought home the trophy?
RL: Well, I would look for commonalities rather than differences. They’ve all had team chemistry. I think that this year’s team enjoyed that same chemistry as that 2007 team did and that 2003 team did and even other teams that didn’t win it. Because we weren’t the most talented team at the final eight (of the NCAA tournament). But we had the greatest resolve, the greatest motivation, the most intense focus and the best leadership from our captains. So when you take all of those factors into consideration, good talent and exceptional leadership, exceptional focus, exceptional assimilation of the concepts…it was a recipe for success.
SL: You won AVCA National Coach of the Year for the third time. What does an award like that mean to you, in terms of your own personal achievement and for your team?
RL: There are many, many coaches who are very deserving of the award, and there are many coaches who are probably more deserving than myself. Unfortunately, sometimes the committee gives it to the coach of the team that wins. What was gratifying this year, for myself, was that again, we weren’t the most athletically talented team at the final eight. We might have been the fourth or fifth most athletically talented team. But for a team to face that challenge and excel, that was just such a great feeling.
SL: You talked a lot during the year about how young your team was. How helpful is that for you in terms of setting up next year?
RL: It’s really great knowing we have such a young nucleus, but at the same time it’s incumbent for me to continue to work hard to improve the team. So we’re looking to add anywhere from six to eight new players for next year. The one thing we didn’t have this year at the end of the season, due to injuries, was depth. So we are going to bring in a number of players. We’re not going to stand pat and say, “Hey, we just won the national championship, we’re a young team, let’s do this again.” We realize we’re going to do anything we need to do to make the team stronger.
SL: Coming out of a national championship season, how do you try to handle expectations going into next season? When the team comes into camp in August, do you tell them to take things slowly or do you come out and say to them, “Hey, let’s go repeat again”?
RL: I hope that each one of them hopes that—no, expects that—we win a national championship. I hope that each player there has in her mind that she wants to be an All-American. Because if you don’t strive for the greatest goals you can possibly reach, then how can you envision doing that? So we’ll begin each year with the same expectation, and that’ll be to win the national championship. And once we establish that as our goal, we have to go through the process to make it.
SL: One thing you want people to remember about this team—what will it be?
RL: We entered with great expectations, met incredible challenges along the way, and through the great leadership we had, the great focus and the intense motivation that we had, won the national championship.