Earlier this week I had the privilege of speaking with Virginia's first-year head volleyball coach Dennis Hohenshelt and getting to see a little bit of how he and his assistants Stevie Mussie and Aaron Smith run their practices.
Mussie was a standout player at The University of Washington before stints as an assistant at Colorado, with Team Complete Athlete and at N. C. State University. Smith - a Virginia native who attended Monacan High School in Midlothian - played for Hohenshelt at Penn State before a brief professional career and assistant coaching stops at Wake Forest and Northwestern.
Hohenshelt spent 16 years at Penn State - the first ten with the men's team, the final six with the women's team. The Nittany Lions won four national titles during his time with the women's team. For good measure you can throw in another national title for the men's team while he was with them.
Now the three of them make up the coaching staff for a volleyball squad that is looking to climb the ladder from the bottom half of the conference standings into national contention.
Check back after the jump to learn more about Hohenshelt and his journey from Happy Valley to Charlottesville. We'll be back next week with some of his comments on the ACC and the team's prospects this year.
Streaking the Lawn: Let's start with "Why Virginia?" What made you realize that Virginia was the right place for you?
Dennis Hohenshelt: I knew what was good. I had a pattern of what was good. I wanted a school that was strong academically within a college town. That's what I liked about Penn State was that it was a college town. I wanted an athletic department with big time programs. To me, it had it all. Everything's here. It's a great administration. It's the perfect formula for winning.
I had the choice to be picky. I could have had other jobs, I could have stayed at Penn State. That's one of the advantages of being at Penn State. It's a good job.
STL: So you had the ability to wait for the right opportunity for you.
DH: Right, exactly. I could say, here's what I want. I don't want to sit in traffic. I like the mountains. I like the outdoors. I didn't want to look at skyscrapers. I want to be able to take my family and walk downtown and spend five hours down there. It was the best for the family. It was the best for me. Academically it's one of the best schools in the country, and I think athletically, the athletics department is one of the best. I don't want to say it was nirvana. But it was what I was looking for.
STL: What was it like transitioning from the men's game to the women's game?
DH: It's different for sure. Anyone who says "Oh I coached guys, I could go coach the girls," it's not easy. At Penn State it was a little different. Our girls were watching the guys practicing and going "well, why can't we do this?" and we could say "exactly." So they watch it happen.
STL: So they're getting ideas and reinforcement from each other on a daily basis.
DH: Right. It's just like it is with basketball and the teams seeing each other practicing. And there are some other differences in how you go about teaching. Sometimes I do have to go home to my wife and say "well why's this happening?" And she'll explain it to me, and you pick up on it pretty fast.
STL: Speaking of transitions, how was the transition to being head coach been?
DH: Pretty good. These guys help. It's nice when you have a good staff. I'm not going to lie to you; we were flying by the seat of our pants here. I think we're still flying by the seat of our pants a little bit and figuring out how things go. But that's the other good thing about being here. If I have a question, [UVA Rowing Head Coach] Kevin Sauer's next door to me. And I'm like hey let me wade through your trophies to get to your office. Or [UVA Men's Soccer Head Coach] George [Gelnovatch] is down in the men's soccer office. [UVA Men's Lacrosse Head Coach] Dom [Starsia]'s the furthest one away. So it's a nice little rectangle of coaches there and they've been great. They want the best, so they've been great at helping. I think we've got our heads wrapped around things a lot better right now.
STL: What you're saying there I think fits in with what you were saying earlier about the quality of the athletics department here. You've got guys winning ACC Championships and you've got guys like Brian O'Connor and Brian Boland who have come in and taken programs that were basically also-rans...
DH: Right. Exactly. We went up to the baseball stadium the other day to look at things and we're like "Geez. This stadium is unbelievable. That's the fun part about it. At Penn State, wrestling is right beside us. And in those two doors in the last five years you've got... six national championships. And then down the hall is men's volleyball who won [a national championship] three years ago. So it's an impressive lot to be in. And then you come here and the first day I walk in, it's 7am, and they were redoing Dom's office. And so they had all of the stuff out of it and it was all in our staff assistant's office and he's trying to juggle like four championship trophies.
That's the great part when you're talking about the athletics department. And it's not just those guys. It's the trainers. It's the staff assistants. It's the marketing guys. It's first class. Everything they've done with me has been first class. Everything they've promised me has been delivered. There's not a promise that they've made from the day I was here for my interview that they have not come through on.
So there's a little bit of information about the man in charge of the program. If you want to see what he's got going on with this squad, go check out the Orange & Blue scrimmage tomorrow (Saturday) at noon. Coach Hohenshelt says they'll play for two solid hours, so it'll be a great opportunity to get out there, see a little volleyball and support the team.
Also make sure to check out the Volleyball preseason blog over at VirginiaSports.com. As of right now there are entries from seven different players, ranging from true first-years to senior captains.
We'll be back next week with the rest of the interview as we lead up to Virginia's first match of the season at Colorado State on August 24th.