Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Making Mountaineers

You won’t see it in the sports media, because they tend to focus on the big revenue sports. However, there is a feel-good story here in West Virginia that I think deserves coverage, even if it is only in my little blog.

WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck, shortly after taking office four years ago, decided a change was necessary in the WVU volleyball program. The coach who had led the team since the ‘70s was replaced, just before the season started, with an up-and-coming young coach. I’ve written before about my experience meeting Jill Kramer, and the good things she has done for the WVU program, but my main concern was whether she would merely be using us as a stepping stone to bigger jobs, or would she make her long-term home in Morgantown.

She is now entering her fourth season as the head coach of the WVU volleyball team, and seems to be very happy to be here. Her teams have each shown marked improvement over the years, even with the jump to the Big XII Conference. She was on the path to making us competitive in the Big East during her first two years, but then had to aim for a much higher echelon in a conference that had even stronger competition.

It’s easy to see the progress the team has made on the court and in the win/loss records. They still have a ways to go to become a Big XII Conference powerhouse, but the trend is definitely in the right direction.

To me, the best news of all is how she has embraced being in the state of West Virginia. Although born and raised in Texas, and a graduate of TCU, she seems to thoroughly enjoy being in the Mountain State. She has told me that she appreciated an essay I wrote about West Virginia, and includes it in a package sent to incoming players so that they know a little bit about our history.

She puts a big emphasis on academics as well as community service, and the team does well in both categories. Each August for the past few years, she has taken her girls on a team-bonding road trip within West Virginia. It lets these girls who come from all over the country (and a few from other countries) get away from Morgantown and lets them see the rest of the Mountain State. For example, they’ve gone camping and whitewater rafting in previous years.

This year, they spent a day at the West Virginia State Fair in Lewisburg, greeting visitors to the WVU display. A team practice was open to spectators at Greenbrier East High School. The next day, they visited Adventures on the Gorge in Fayette County to do the Gravity Zipline tour. Yesterday morning, they actually went into a working coal mine, to experience worklife underground. That afternoon, they toured a mountaintop removal site, to see that version of coal extraction. After that, they got dressed up and attended a reception in their honor at the Charleston Marriott. All these different West Virginia activities over the past few days made for quite an interesting road trip!

Last night’s reception featured 6 foot, 3 inch Hannah Shreve, a member of the team from Charleston, who was the first in-state player recruited by Coach Kramer. When it came time to assign her a number last year, it was Coach Kramer who had an unusual recommendation for her. Most volleyball players have low numbers. However, in recognition of being a West Virginia native at WVU—and having noticed a lot of WVU apparel that features 1867 or often just 67 as the date of the school’s founding—Coach Kramer suggested that Hannah wear number 67. It was a nice way to honor West Virginia’s flagship university. [Perhaps if we get another in-state native on the team, she could wear 63 for the year our state was founded.]

I feel like Coach Kramer has come to appreciate the essence of true West Virginians—of how we value our freedom, how we work hard, and how we feel underappreciated, which leads us to carry a chip on our shoulders about the state that we love. She tries to convey that “inner Mountaineer” to all her players, in the hopes that they understand what it means to wear a West Virginia uniform—and why they must excel! She wants her players to understand that the flying WV represents not just the school, nor the city where it is located, but instead it represents this entire great state. I hope she has found her coaching home and stays with us for many years to come.

So this is a wish for good luck to the WVU Volleyball team in the coming season! I hope we pull some upsets this year and keep climbing to the top of the mountain! Let’s go, Mountaineers!

As the WVU team finishes a timeout during a game, Coach Kramer
can be seen wearing a black jacket on the right side of the huddle.

1 comment:

  1. Here is the official story from the WVU Athletic Department about the volleyball team's tour of southern West Virginia--