LARAMIE, Wyo. -
If you happen to meet him walking down an athletics department hallway, you might not identify him as a head coach.
He’s a quiet, pleasant man who carries himself with great dignity. While he has an unassuming way in the hall, he commands great respect on a volleyball court. He expects, and receives a high level of performance from his team.
Chad Callihan has made Wyoming volleyball the toughest ticket in town, while dusting off and recharging its tradition. You have to get to the UniWyo Sports Complex early these days if you want to see the Cowgirls play.
Callihan has elevated the UW program to a level it hasn’t seen in over two decades.
Wyoming carries a 12-2 record into its second week of Mountain West play tonight on the road at San Diego State and on Saturday afternoon at Nevada. The Cowgirls have cracked the American Volleyball Coaches Association poll ranked 25th in the country.
For the first time since 1994 a Cowgirl team enters a weekend of competition ranked among the nation’s 25 best teams.
Chad doesn’t like the spotlight. I’m sure he doesn’t care for the way this column began. But the success of Cowgirl volleyball is about him and his marvelous staff—Kristin Belzung, Dan Georgalas and Liz Shuyler. They have made the good players they inherited better and added high-quality recruiting classes.
While elevating the program by honing the skill level and competiveness of his Cowgirls, Callihan also has upgraded the competition his teams face. His nonconference schedules challenge and battle-test the Cowgirls for the rigors of conference play. Nationally-ranked Ohio State and Kansas have been to Laramie this season, while Gonzaga and Utah have appeared on the road schedule.
Like most every other coach in America, Callihan would tell you, and rightfully so, it’s certainly not about him, but about the players he coaches.
There’s no doubt Wyoming has good players. While watching the Ohio State match to open the season on a wondrous night in the Arena-Auditorium, I marveled at the fact the Cowgirls were every bit at the talent level of their opponent. They beat the nationally-ranked Buckeyes in four sets.
Despite the graduation of four-time all-conference star Erin Kirby, outstanding talent abounds for the Cowgirls. The offense has been spearheaded by a trio of attackers. Juniors Kayla Slofkiss who already has posted six double-doubles, and Laura Beach, one of the league’s elite in hitting percentage and senior Bridget Shanahan who has 131 kills. Senior Allison Waldvogel is in the league’s top three for digs and has twice been named league player of the week and also espnW national player of the week. Junior Courtney Chacon continues her assault on the UW record books with well over 2,000 assists. The program perpetuates itself as Callihan’s latest class includes one of the league’s top newcomers in Reed Copeland, the sensational freshman who leads the MW in blocks, and is sixth in the NCAA in blocks per set.
It was Mike English who first brought Wyoming volleyball to national prominence back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The “father” of Cowgirl volleyball, he had a great run of producing high-quality teams. Certainly when he was hired in January of 1986, no one could have predicted the impact English would have on the program. Tragically an automobile accident eventually took the UW Hall of Famer from us. But during his time in Laramie, English built an elite program while guiding the Cowgirls to three NCAA appearances.
For impacting Wyoming volleyball, I believe Callihan and English can be mentioned in the same conversation, and that’s high praise for Chad. Ironically their personalities are very similar, unassuming, quiet (until you get to know them), and owners of a dry wit. While those characteristics are similar the two coaches most mirror each other in demanding excellence through meticulous preparation.
With the help of Tim Harkins and Amy Dambro in our media relations department, I went back in time when the Cowgirls were last nationally-ranked in volleyball. The English influence was all over that team even though he was not with the Cowgirls.
It was one of those “worst of times, best of times” scenarios. English was involved in the car wreck on his way to Denver for a recruiting trip on December 13, 1993. Seven months after the crash it was determined that he would be unable to return to the program. It was a tremendous blow to everyone. His assistant, Beth Kuwata, was elevated to the head-coaching position. The job she did under the most difficult of circumstances was nothing short of phenomenal.
Kuwata guided that ’94 team to UW’s fourth NCAA tournament bid in school history, while earning Western Athletic Conference Co-Coach of the Year honors. That Cowgirl team—with names like Jill Robins, Melissa Sharp, Kris Dzelme and Wende Brown--also set an attendance record when the Cowgirls, ranked 24th in the land, hosted number-four-ranked UCLA before 4,081 fans in the Arena-Auditorium.
Those Cowgirls were the last to be nationally ranked. . .until these Cowgirls!
It has been a long time between rankings, that’s a fact, and I know Callihan is all about down-playing the ranking. It is, however, an indicator of where the program is going. You’ll hear a lot more from these Cowgirls because terrific things are brewing within the program. While no one can predict how this season will go, I know Chad Callihan and his staff will give the Cowgirls the very best opportunity to be successful now and for the long term.