Since 2004, the Rice University women’s volleyball team has compiled a 232-157 record, paving the way for eight winning seasons, one Conference USA championship (2009), three second-place finishes (2004, 2011 and 2012) and three berths to the NCAA tournament (2004, 2008 and 2009), the only three appearances in Rice volleyball history. It is no coincidence that head coach Genny Volpe’s arrival coincides with the beginning of this historic run. Under Volpe, the Owls have enjoyed their winningest period under a single head coach.
Volpe, however, refuses to accept much credit for Rice’s consistent success, despite being named Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2008. She said many other people have had their share in developing the Rice volleyball program into what it is today.
“No head coach could do it alone,” Volpe said. “My coaching staff and I work very hard, but so much goes into being a consistent performing team. We need great strength coaches, athletic trainers and most importantly, student athletes that are all-in. I felt blessed that we have had so many awesome players come through this program.”
One of these players is senior captain Leah Mikesky, one of 14 Conference USA All-Academic selections and one of 38 All-Conference selections under Volpe. In an interview with the Thresher earlier this year, Mikesky said the interaction between Volpe and the athletes is very positive.
“[Volpe] has a lot of energy in practice every day,” Mikesky said. “It’s really easy to talk to her and she is really open to our feedback. If we have any concerns or questions, [she] listens to us and what we think.”
According to Volpe, being more open is a product of her developing into a better coach since coming to Rice.
“I love learning new things and discovering other methods of coaching from my peers,” Volpe said. “I think the volleyball circle is unique in that sense. Those of us that truly live the game share ideas.”
Volpe has been living the game for a while now, in several different roles. After playing for the Texas A&M University team as a four-year letterwinner setter and outside hitter, Volpe became a student assistant coach for the Corbellis at A&M in 1994. In 2002, Volpe participated in the USA Volleyball National Tournament and earned a selection to the all-tournament team by leading her team, Texas Advantage, to a third-place finish in the AA Gold Division National Championship. She also served as an assistant coach at Rice (1995), Southern Methodist University (1996-2000) and Texas A&M (2001-2003) before finally landing a head coaching job at Rice. According to Volpe, there is something unique about Rice that keeps her coming back even after 13 years.
“Rice is a very special place,” Volpe said. “There are very few universities that set the bar high both athletically and academically. I feel fortunate to be able to lead this program and am thankful. The type of student athletes we attract and recruit are wonderful people and a joy to coach.”
This year has been no exception, and Volpe said the team, who has won seven straight after a 4-7 start to the season, is unique from all of her previous teams.
“I can honestly say there have never been two teams alike [that I have coached],” Volpe said. “This team is a great combination of youth and experience. It is a group that is eager to get better each day.”
Currently tied for second in Conference USA behind 16-2 Western Kentucky University, Rice is aiming to get back to its first NCAA tournament since 2009. According to Volpe, the Owls have a shot if this team accomplishes some key tasks.
“A lot goes into making the postseason,” Volpe said. “Staying healthy. Staying focused. Keeping up with academics so in November we are peaking. We need to have a strong conference season and put ourselves in the best position to win the [Conference USA tournament]. If we do those things, NCAA postseason could be in our future.”
This year, the Owls will get the opportunity to play for the conference championship at home in Tudor Fieldhouse. Rice will host the Conference USA tournament beginning Nov. 18 and the tournament champion will earn the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. Volpe said she is hoping Rice students will come to support the team.
“The more support we get from the students at Rice the better,” Volpe said. “The last time we hosted we had great support and we hope that the students come out again. It was an awesome environment.”
As for the volleyball program in general, Volpe said she is proud of what has been accomplished but is not content with where the program is right now.
“Rice volleyball has certainly made great strides over the years, and I’m really proud of that,” Volpe said. “I see our team continuing to grow and recruit the best of the best. I see our team continuing to compete on a national level, and consistently competing for conference championships. We are always striving for that championship.”