Walking in Big Shoes One Step at a Time
Head Coach Mike Sealy Begins His First Season with the UCLA Women's Volleyball Team
By Brian Anthony Price
Most of Mike Sealy's volleyball career has been spent as a player and an assistant coach. Sealy graduated from UCLA in 1993, the same year he captained a Bruin squad that captured the National Championship. He left UCLA as a four-year letterwinner and three-time All-American, ranking fourth in assists (4,749) all-time as a Bruin.
In 2006, Sealy was a part of another UCLA National Championship as an assistant coach with the men's volleyball team. He's built a resume that's seemingly perfect for another run with UCLA, but this time as a head coach. On February 10, Sealy assumed the role of head coach for the UCLA women's volleyball team.
Sealy succeeds the winningest coach in volleyball history, Andy Banchowski. During his 43-year tenure, Banchowski compiled a 1,106-301 record. Sealy chalks up the new position in his typically wry way, "I'm riding in the van that nobody else wants to ride in."
It's a daunting task to follow an icon of the sport, but Sealy is philosophical about the task at hand.
"We're going to continue to do great things. Whether it takes days, months or years our focus is making this program a perennial final-four team."
To begin the 2010 season, the Bruins will play only one of its' first 14 games at Pauley Pavilion. However, Sealy appreciates benefits of traveling as a team.
"Following a short preseason [of only 16 days], it's great to get off campus, hit the road together and get out into the real world. Teammates loosen up on the road, so they get a better picture of what each other is really like."
Apparently it's working. The team has gotten off to a strong start, compiling a 6-1 record and inching from a 16th preseason ranking to 13th overall in the nation.
Despite early success, Sealy noted that with an entirely new staff and only one senior player (Dicey McGraw, a 2009 Honorable Mention All-Pac-10), things could get bumpy. He knows that McGraw can't take on the burden alone.
"It's up to the staff to help Dicey understand that we don't want to hang her out to dry. We want her to be comfortable in her leadership role."
McGraw has some proven teammates. Junior Lainey Gera had the second-best single-season totals in digs (594) and digs per set (4.91) in 2009. Katie Camp was second on the team in blocks per set (0.94) last season.
Sealy accepts there will be setbacks.
"Like with any team or family, there's always going to be difficult times but, as long as the players agree to be committed to one another, we should be fine."
The team actually is an extended family of sorts. More than half the players on the current roster have relatives who graduated from UCLA and, in many cases, competed there. Freshman DS Madie Smith is the 10th member of her family to matriculate. Both of Smith's sisters were on the Bruins volleyball squad. Freshman OH Kelly Reeves was born into the program at UCLA Hospital in 1992.
In addition to McGraw, Camp and Lainey, there are 17 other players Sealy has to manage and coach.
"Our staff is dedicated to the players and their families. We want our players to develop not just as players but as people," Sealy said. "Each year we're going to get more efficient, we'll go through preseasons and find things that we need to tweak a little bit for the following season."
With a degree in physiological science, Sealy is constantly doing biomechanical assessments: "If there's one thing I can do well it's analyze the players to see how each moves and to make adjustments. We all walk differently and throw differently. It's using those differences to maximize output. I don't want cookie cutter players. I want each player to be unique and bring something new to the table."
In addition to astute management skills and science, Sealy brings heart to his new team: "Wins are great, but the high point of coaching is working with players on a specific aspect of the game and then, one day, it clicks for them. I see the joy on their faces right after it's all come together. To witness hard work paying off for a young athlete is what I love most about coaching."
And, as to getting comfortable in his new role, it's evolving. "Once I saw my name on the door: 'Mike Sealy: Head Coach' it felt pretty real."