The Coastal Georgia volleyball team will look much different than the one that advanced to the 2021 Sun Conference Championship match when it opens its 2022 season next month.
The Mariners went 24-8 overall and 7-7 in conference play in the second season under Israel Delgado, but the program is set to host its first game Aug. 20 against Brewton-Parker with a new head coach on the bench and 11 new players on the roster.
Coastal didn’t have to look far for a coaching replacement. The college turned off the beaten path and toward its director of sports information and marketing Valerie Every to take over as the interim head coach.
“Since she has served as an assistant coach with our team the previous two seasons, she has strong relationships with our current players, understands the needs of the team, and as a result of the time she has devoted to the team, is far ahead of anyone we might have hired into the position,” Coastal Georgia director of athletics William Carlton said when the hiring was announced in January. “Coach Every has a solid volleyball background and will bring new energy and enthusiasm to the team.”
Every arrived at Coastal Georgia in 2019, and in addition to her responsibilities within the athletic department, she served as an assistant with the volleyball program in 2020 and 2021, focusing on outside and rightside hitters as well as the mental strength and development of the team. As an assistant, Every instituted goal-setting and practice evaluation programs.
But even with a few seasons as an assistant under her belt with the program, Every couldn’t have imagined Coastal would offer her first head coaching job at any level three years after starting down a different career.
“Based on the career that I had started when I came to Coastal, it was something I never expected to be happening,” Every said. “I was elated — I never expected the offer, I never expected the opportunity, especially when I had chosen to work in sports communications, you kind of give up on that.
“I feel like it’s every little kid’s dream, at least it was my dream. I coached at the high school level in Wisconsin, and it was something I had reserved to be like, ‘Yeah, it’s a wonderful thing I get to do and be a part of, but it’s not something that’s ever going to be a career for me.’ When they told me, I was just kind of floored. I was just so, again appreciative, but just overwhelmed with the opportunity in the sense of just excitement and elation.”
Every played volleyball for the UW-Stevens Point National Collegiate Volleyball Federation team as she earned her undergraduate degree in communication with an emphasis in public relations and media studies, earning three-time All-Wisconsin Volleyball Conference selections while helping the program qualify for the Sweet 16 of the Division 3 national championship tournament all four seasons, including runners-up in 2019.
Every also served three years as a volleyball coach at Stevens Point Area Senior High, where she helped the program to its first conference championship in 18 years and a regional final appearance in the Wisconsin state tournament.
Priding herself on being a positive influence in the lives of her student athletes, Every jumped at the opportunity to return to coaching full-time.
“There were so many phone calls that happened that day,” Every said. “I got to speak to my mentor, who is the athletic director at my alma matter UW-Stevens Point, and he had great advice and encouragement. I got to talk to my family, some of the other coaches at the high school level that I had coached with, and just people who had seen me coach and seen how happy it made me, and hopefully got to see the impact I made on the student athletes in previous locations.”
Every worked double-duty until Coastal Georgia hired a new director of sports information in June, and now she’s turned her full attention to developing a team experiencing a lot of roster turnover.
AVCA All-Southeast Region team member Giovana Larregui Lopez transferred to Division I Eastern Illinois University, and All-Sun Conference selection Samantha Johnston has left the program. In total, the Mariners have just six players returning from a season ago five of which garnered significant playing time — setter Kyla Mullen, middle blocker Sydney Martin, outside hitter Skylar Gribben, setter Rebecca Brown and outside hitter Elena Gkiourda.
Coastal Georgia will also add a handful of junior transfers that should replenish some of the experience on the roster and cultivate a different culture under the new management.
“I’m really going to look to my upperclassmen incomers, that will be Katie Jordan, Charlette Ayala, Natalia Wilhelm Heguaburu, and May Heskett, to add some depth to our arsenal,” Every said. “I’m hoping to see leadership from them too, as you always want when you’re building a new culture, building a new team. I’m hopeful they’ll come in and make an impact. I’ve seen them play, and I’m excited to see the consistency that group of women will bring to the team.”
Every’s own previous experience with the program will benefit the Mariners in the transition as she plans to continue running a system similar to the one she’s helped teach for the past two seasons.
Returning players will be leaned on to both run the system and pass along their knowledge to an incoming group that includes five true freshmen: Amelia Paschall, Breanna Tanton, Paula Perez Rosales, Chantiya Johnson, and Brunswick High graduate Andi Thompson.
In her first recruiting class as a head coach, Every is confident she has put together a gritty, confident group that want to be involved, earn playing time, and do anything they can to benefit the program.
“I stressed a lot in the conversations on the recruit calls, I am a systematic person; this is the system we run, and this is how, as a team, if we want to be successful, we all have to work in the system,” Every said. “I believe I’ve recruited women that understood, appreciated, and agreed that’s how they wanted to be successful too.
“That being said, I’m super excited to see the talent we’re going to bring in. Each player has a unique playstyle, playing ability, that we’re going to be able to use differently. The underlying factor in that we’re young and have a lot of newcomers is no one knows what we’re going to look like. I think that’s a little added weapon to our arsenal for the next season.”
Coastal Georgia has advanced to the championship game in the Sun Conference Tournament three times in the past four seasons. It would be an incredible feat for the Mariners to make a fourth appearance in a rebuilding campaign, but the expectations are more internally focused as the season crawls closer.
“In the same way I intend to prove to myself, Dr. Carlton, (president Dr. Michelle Johnston), the people who work here, who work in the athletic department or work in the whole school, just reinforce the fact that decision was the right one, I hope that I can be a part of some progress for these women,” Every said. “They’re a wonderful group of women, and I’m just thrilled to be able to work with them.”