This past fall, the Oberlin volleyball team surprised quite a few people, themselves included. The team won frequently, turned around a poor record, and forged a deserved reputation as fighters within the North Coast Athletic Conference.
Over the past few years, the team has suffered from a lack of continuity in coaching, with a succession of new coaches from one year to the next. And the 1995 season results--4 wins and 27 losses--were discouraging, to say the least.
Under the guidance of Coach Suzanne Garland, the Yeowomen began the 1996 season with limited expectations. But by the end of the first two weeks of play, they'd exceeded the total number of wins scored in 1995, and it was clear that it was going to be a better year. The team finished the season with a final record of 14-17, an impressive turnaround that surprised just about everyone.
Though Garland credits the team entirely, her presence has certainly been the catalyst for the program's new success. She is inspirational both in her philosophy and in her modesty. With a background of impressive athletic training and achievement--including being chosen to serve as a line judge in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta--Garland's résumé gels with her dedication. But her talent lies foremost in her ability to convince players of their potential when working not as individuals, but as a team. In her experience, "true championship teams spend a lot of time on oneness and trust. Winning is all about confidence and belief in the team."
Members of the team concurred. "We trust each other as players," said senior Karen Rosenbaum. "We have good communication and everyone is considerate of one another."
"You see players on other teams blaming each other for mistakes a lot, and you see how detrimental that is. We just say 'that's okay,' and move on," added first-year student Jill Brockelman.
Players are quick to acknowledge Garland's influence. "We are definitely learning a lot more," said Rosenbaum. "She has done what we really wanted, which was to start with the basics, the skills. This hadn't been done enough in the past."
Garland, whom players describe as "extremely effective," has earned their respect by showing an understanding of their goals. Both Rosenbaum and Brockelman commented on Garland's understanding of the relationship of athletics to academics. "She knows we're not here just to play sports, but to learn," Rosenbaum said.
The respect is mutual. Garland accepted the position at Oberlin after a campus visit left her feeling as though the school shared her belief in teamwork. The "unique group passion of Oberlin students" and a sense that "the staff supported one another" convinced her of these shared ideals, she said.
Because she had only seven players of varying abilities on the team, Garland was forced to be a creative and versatile coach, a challenge she met with enthusiasm. Garland made it clear that she came to Oberlin to teach with the intent of personal growth. "At Division I schools, I can recruit and build the team around my system. I like being at this level (Division III) because it challenges me to build my system around the team," she said.
"I try to help them enjoy being aggressive, and have the desire to win," said Garland. "They're not used to winning, and I'm constantly telling them that they're better than they think they are. I think they're starting to believe that." The team's actions correspond: they already asked for a more difficult season next year.
Garland noted the program's frequent change of coaches as a major cause of prior poor records. "There's hasn't been stability," she said. "But I tell them, 'I'm not going anywhere.'"
The permanence of Suzanne Garland will ensure that women's volleyball continues to win, and not simply on the court.
--Ben Jones '96
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