Missy Soboleski arrived at Edinboro 6 1/2 years ago to take over a women’s volleyball program in a state of flux. The Scots were one year removed from the departure of highly-successful coach Lynn Theehs, who had produced back-to-back 26-win seasons and NCAA appearances before leaving for the University of Maine.
Soboleski inherited a young team that went 13-19 under interim coach Dale Flickinger and, at least initially, fought her on everything from coaching style to strategy. Eventually, Soboleski won out, and the team won 17 of 19 after a 7-12 start.
The end result has been a stretch that includes five NCAA Division II Atlantic Region berths and at least 23 wins in five of her first six seasons.
Soboleski, who played and coached at Gannon and coached at Mercyhurst, recently posted her 300th career win.
She took time out recently to talk to the Erie Times-News about her coaching career and her preparations for Edinboro’s latest playoff push, which begins next week.
Erie Times-News: You’ve coached at Gannon, Mercyhurst and now Edinboro. How has that influenced your coaching?
Missy Soboleski: I don’t know if it’s influenced my coaching. I think the three places I’ve been have made me realize how limited sometimes volleyball staffs and scholarships are. I’m where I want to be, I can tell you that, support-wise. I definitely noticed a huge cange from each place in the support of the program.
ETN: We’re in a hotbed for high school girls volleyball. Does that make recruiting easier or tougher?
MS: Actually it’s a little bit easier, the tougher you are and your conference is. I guess if I were with a team that’s not as successful it would be harder. I have girls seeking us. We’re able to get some of the bigger girls because of the level of competition.
ETN: What does an athlete need to be successful in your program?
MS: The first question I usually ask is have they ever considered not playing volleyball, because if they aren’t committed to it they won’t be successful in this program. In order to be successful at our level to the standard that we want to be, we’re a year-round volleyball program. I’m looking for that eye of the tiger kid that everybody’s looking for, the ones who want to keep the ball off the floor at any cost.
ETN: You’re on a great run now, but what was most challenging about the transition when you took over the program?
MS: Battling those players that first year was tough. They had a chip on their shoulders and they didn’t want me as their coach. Getting them to buy into my philosophy took most of the year, but they bought into it, most of them anyway. We did get rid of one girl.
ETN: What stands out about this year’s team?
MS: I think this year, like the past few years, we’ve really gotten better defensively.
ETN: Is that a point of emphasis in your coaching or a product of recruiting defense?
MS: We’re getting better defensive players, girls who want to play back there and want to block. What we’re seeing is that a girl who might be a hitter in high school and might go and get a scholarship offer to play at a larger school, where she might sit or where they might not win, more of those girls are coming to us. They are willing to give up some things for the chance to play and to compete at a high level. And some of those players wind up becoming really good defensive players.
ETN: What’s the biggest challenge you face?
MS: Keeping the level of play up to where our standards are. Mentally, being able to compete at a high level every year, after you’ve done it before, isn’t always easy. Sometimes the level that we practice at and train at is so high it’s exhausting, but that’s something we have to do to maintain our level of play.
ETN: You played and coached under hall of fame coach Gerry Vensel. How did she influence you?
MS: The way I recruit, the way I train. The family part of it, as far as recruiting goes, getting out ad getting to know the parents and the kid, sitting on the couch and explaining what your program is about and what your expectations are. That I learned from her. I train my girls like she trained me, which was hard, but it produced results. I would play for her again in a heartbeat.
ETN: How do you size up your chances in the postseason?
MS: I think it’s between us and Gannon, Clarion and Cal (Edinboro beat Gannon 3-1 Tuesday to earn a split of their regular season series. The Scots lost to Clarion at home last week.). I think any one of us can win the conference. We’ve all had our ups and downs. If we play our best then we can win it.
Edinboro women’s volleyball
Coach: Missy Soboleski (173-79 at Edinboro, 306-57 overall)
2011 record: 21-7 overall, 13-5 PSAC
Next: Friday at Mercyhurst in their regular season finale
Top players: Gina Boothe (3.45 kills per set), Cherene O’Hara (0.75 blocks per set), Brittany Flynn (4.26 digs per set), Megan Osysko (9.1 assists per set).
For the full interview, please visit the On Campus blog at GoErie.com/blogs/oncampus.
– John Dudley