By Dustin Livesay and Dan Hiner
When Youngstown State University volleyball coach Mark Hardaway arrived on campus three years ago, the program was an afterthought to the athletic department.
Hardaway took over a team that went 5-24 in 2011. Since his first season in 2012, the Penguins have posted a winning record in his first three seasons, including a 16-13 record during the regular season this year.
During Hardaway’s other interviews, the administrations at other universities tried to convince him how great their program was. He was impressed by how truthful the YSU administration was during his interview.
“During the interview process, I was very excited by the fact that when I sat down with the administration, they said ‘This is what we have and here are our expectations. If you can’t do the expectations with what we have, please say no now,’” Hardaway said.
Hardaway doesn’t take credit for the program’s turnaround. He said he believes the players and their willingness to change led to the eventual success of the volleyball program.
“It’s the players that made the change, and that’s the key,” he said. “The players made the change and, fortunate for me, the change worked right away and that helped me in our second year. I think if they made the changes and if they didn’t work, it would have been harder in our second year.”
Since Hardaway has built the foundation for a winning program, he can now focus on coaching and further development of the players he recruited and developed. Senior Shannon Watson praised Hardaway on his coaching style and his ability of personally coach his players.
“I think he is great as a person and as a coach,” Watson said. “I think he knows how we need to be coached individually and how we need to be talked to. I know I am different from Lexi Egler, I know I am different from Jessie Gerig, and he plays upon that really well. He knows the type of approach we need in order to be successful and he really does a very good job at being personalized in his coaching.”
Junior Aly Ryan is thankful for being recruited by Hardaway and realizes how lucky she is to have Hardaway as her coach.
“I don’t think I have heard of a coach that cares for his players so much,” Ryan said. “I know that within the first season, I was talking to a lot of my other friends from my club team back home, and they were playing at different colleges and they tell me these horror stories of how they are quitting volleyball. People that love the sport more than I do and it really scared me, but Coach is the nicest coach ever and he understands when we are tired. He understands when we need to go a little lighter on practice, but he knows when we need to go a little harder.”
Ryan also spoke of how well Hardaway knows his players, and how this helps the team.
“I think he knows his players very well on the court and off the court and I think he uses it to his advantage because he cares so much about his players so that we feel that there is this respect with each other and it carries over to the success of the team,” Ryan said.
The Penguins hope to continue winning this season as the Horizon League tournament approaches. YSU will play Cleveland State University on Nov. 20 and will try to bring the volleyball program its first conference title in program history.