The UC Santa Cruz athletics department has been chronically understaffed since Julie Roth, the sports information director, resigned at the start of the school year.
Both NCAA volleyball teams are operating without a head coach. Men’s volleyball head coach Todd Hollenbeck left to take an assistant coaching position at USC in July, and hiring his replacement has been a top priority for the athletics department. But with limited staff, the athletics department is stretched thin. Athletic director Cliff Dochterman continues to lead the searches, while stepping in as a head coach for both programs.
“We have done a national search. We have very specific requirements for that job and we need somebody who can take this team and make it a top five team in the country,” Dochterman said. “We have been through several candidates who didn’t really have the qualifications to do that.”
Without an official coach, the men’s team will hold tryouts this week in anticipation of its preseason kickoff. Practices start on Nov. 2.
“We will be running tryouts ourselves,” said outside hitter Jorge Reyes. “I’m the only senior, but we have about four to five juniors to help establish our team.”
The men’s team anticipates about 15 players attending tryouts. Reyes estimates only two to three players will be cut, depending on the talent of the incoming freshman and transfers. Dochterman will attend tryouts in an administrative capacity, but tryouts and cuts will be left up to the team.
“There is going to be an interesting dynamic until we do get a coach,” Dochterman said. “What is helping with the situation is that we have some very mature guys on the team who can handle a captain’s practice and they have done this very well already.”
The last few years have been successful for the program, traveling to multiple NCAA playoff appearances under Hollenbeck’s leadership. In the 2014-15 season, Hollenbeck led the team to an overall season record of 24-6 and the fifth-best win percentage in NCAA Division III (.8).
The team is concerned about the likelihood of finding a coach on such short notice. Players are skeptical about how quickly the new coaching staff will transition into leading a team that is already established and participating in competitions.
“Our pre-season practices have already been postponed, and we don’t have as many pre-season games scheduled because there is no coach,” Reyes said. “We learned that the search for a coach has failed three times because there haven’t been enough applicants.”
Dochterman said he wasn’t willing to just hire any candidate who applied for the job because the team is too important to the athletics program.
“Another consideration we have is the high expectations for the volleyball team. It was ranked No. 2 in the country last year and it has a chance to compete for the national championship again this year,” Dochterman said. “So I want it to have someone who can help [the team] to live out its dream. So if it takes me a little while to do it, then it’s worth the time.”
Sophomore Brian Campbell said the team’s time without a coach has been disappointing, considering its season is starting so soon.
“Our team feels like a disorganized club team rather than a top NCAA team,” Campbell said. “It seems really unprofessional.”
Coach-related setbacks have affected the women’s volleyball team as well. More than halfway into the season, head coach Dwight Combs took a leave of absence from the team and will not return before his coaching contract expires in November. Dochterman declined to comment on the specifics of the situation, stating it was a personnel matter between the head coach and the athletes. The athletes also declined to comment on Combs’ departure.
“I have stepped in, in theory as the head coach,” Dochterman said. “Our assistant Morgan Ellert, who played on the team last year, has been doing a really nice job all season, so she is handling most of the strategy and I’m handling most of the general stuff that goes into running a team.”
The women’s team was 6-11 before Combs took his leave of absence and is currently 9-11 coming off a three-game win streak. The women are heading to the Great South American Conference tournament in Georgia as the No. 1 seed. A tournament win could result in an automatic qualifying bid to NCAA playoffs.
Dochterman remains optimistic about the remainder of the season, expressing that the athletes are staying positive and have been able to adapt to the changes well. He said his main focus is keeping the programs competitive.