Coming Back To Volleyball

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.5, April 2006,

What do you do when you’re about to go from being a basketball star at the University of Texas to being an assistant volleyball coach at a small high school in the northern rural part of the state? This was the scenario for Heather Schreiber, an All-American basketball player who started every game for the Longhorns for four years.

Her answer was to dust off her volleyball sneakers, which hadn’t been used since high school, and join the Texas women’s volleyball team.

Drafted by the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks last April, Schreiber left school to begin a pro career, but did not make the team’s final roster. Her back-up plan was to become a teacher and coach, and she landed a job at her alma mater, Windthorst High School. But first she needed to complete one more semester at UT to obtain her degree.

At that point, Texas Head Volleyball Coach Jerritt Elliott asked Schreiber if she might be interested in joining his team. She had one more season of eligibility left in another sport, and had had a standout high school career, leading Windthorst to four consecutive state titles. She decided to take on the challenge—to compete with a new perspective and ready herself for her next step in life.

An outside hitter for Texas, Schreiber came off the bench in 14 of the team’s matches, helping the Longhorns to a 24-5 record and a top-20 ranking. But the biggest lesson she learned from the experience, she says, was to appreciate being a non-starter.

“I had never sat the bench in my whole life, ever,” Schreiber says. “But on this team, there were some games—a lot of games actually—when I didn’t play. Experiencing firsthand what it’s like to go to practice every day and work your hardest knowing you might not get to play in the next game—that will help me a lot in coaching.”

Since December, Schreiber has been back at Windthorst High, where she’s serving as a teacher’s aide while seeking her teaching certification and as an assistant coach in volleyball and other sports, working primarily with j.v. and freshman teams. “I don’t want there to be a game that goes by where a player never enters the court, especially at the j.v. level,” she says. “They’re all working hard, so they need to get the reward of being able to play.”

Her season of college volleyball has helped the transition from player to coach in another important way. College volleyball, especially at UT’s level, proved far more complex offensively and defensively than the high school game she’d played at Windthorst, and Schreiber admits there was some catching-up to do. But she credits her UT coaches and teammates for helping her.

“There was stuff I was learning or relearning every single day,” she says. “But the Texas coaches are really good teachers, and that helped me. That’s the approach I try to take now with my teams, to be a patient teacher.”