Katie O’Brien, head coach of the University of Montevallo’s volleyball team

Katie O’Brien is the head coach of the Volleyball team. She has been at the University of Montevallo as a head coach since spring of 2008, after being the head coach at Piedmont College. Last year the falcons finished the season 22-9 overall and 15-4 in conference play. 

This year the volleyball team will start the season off today in Huntsville playing Harding at 9 a.m. and Travecca Nazarene at 1 p.m. Tomorrow they will face off against Lees-McRae at 8 a.m. and West Georgia at 5 p.m. Before those games Coach O’Brien answered a few of The Alabamian’s questions about her coaching style, her interest in volleyball and how she became a head coach.  

Q: Where did you go to school? When did you join the UM Athletics program? 

I attended the University of Iowa and then I went to coach at Piedmont College.  I joined UM in spring 2008 – current. 

Q: What started your interest in volleyball? 

I knew I loved the sport of volleyball when playing it in gym class during elementary school or family picnics, when I was little.  Entering 8th grade I started to get more serious about it and wanted to play in college.  I was probably better at basketball right out of high school but my potential in volleyball was even greater.  

Q: How did you get into coaching? 

I knew I wanted to stay involved in volleyball (at the time my knee was not 100% to go and play professionally) so it was natural to want to be a Graduate Assistant (GA) somewhere.  I come from a family of teachers and coaching is teaching, in a different way.   

Q: How did you become a head coach? 

My first pick for a GA spot didn’t work out, it was getting late (July); I had 2 offers.  I picked Piedmont College after a visit.  Right after my first season, they asked me if I wanted the Head Coaching job.  I will forever be thankful that they gave me the opportunity.   

Q: How would you describe your philosophy as a coach? 

I am open to learning, so my philosophy does keep changing slightly.  

I believe hard work pays off through development.  That process is important to student-athletes, and often a life skill referred back to after graduation.    

Don’t say “can’t”; try to do your best. 

As far as a strategy, we look at our individual player’s strengths and figure out how to use them to benefit us as a team. 

Q: Do you feel that playing as a collegiate athlete impacted this philosophy at all? 

I feel that everyone that has coached and helped me along the way has had an impact in the coach I am today; as has the student-athletes that have played for me.  I have learned a lot over the years, no year is exactly the same as another.     

Q: What are you looking for most from prospective and current players? 

We are looking for fundamentally solid student-athletes, on the court and in the classroom.  It is great if they are quick and jump high.  Height is also something we can’t teach but are they good people?  Team chemistry, we enjoy going to practice and being around each other.  We work hard during our practice time so we can rely on those skills during the match.  Our teams in the past have had a great GPA, so we continue to look for strong academic students as well.   

Q: How do you measure your success as a coach? 

We like to get good grades and to win; however, I think the relationships are the most rewarding.  I take pride in that fact that my student-athletes still like the sport after they leave college.  Some are still coaching volleyball at school or in club.  I am also proud of them when they go onto graduate school and get that next degree.  I am always honored to be invited to their wedding.  I love to follow former student-athletes on Facebook and see their kids grow.   

Q: What do you think that is the most damaging myth about college athletics programs? 

Title IX forces schools to cut men’s sports.  

Even after 40 years, this myth still exists.  I would say the majority of the public want men and women to have equal opportunity, including education and athletics. 

Q: Is there something that you feel separates volleyball apart from other sports? 

The body is actually the instrument that moves the ball, without pause, once the ball is served.   Also, volleyball is played without a clock.  

Q: How do you think that the lack of a clearly defined/consistent professional volleyball scene in the US effects collegiate athletics? 

Most of the time a professional league does not happen is due to lack of financial backing.  I was part of a team in Atlanta 2002 and we did not get picked up.  The USA produces many professionals who go overseas and play and of course there is beach here.  Volleyball is one of the fast-growing sports in the U.S.A. so maybe there is a chance in the future.  

*Former player Manyi Ati went overseas to play in Sweden. 

You can read more about the volleyball team’s upcoming season in the most recent issue of The Alabamian or check out our UM Athletics coverage at: http://www.thealabamian.com/category/sports/