Coaching volleyball at a high level has always been on Erica Avery's radar. The right position came along and now she is a head coach for the first time.
Avery, 25, is the coach of the Great Bay Community College volleyball team, which is in its second year of existence.
The Herons went 1-12 in their inaugural season last fall, winning their opener and then dropping their next 12.
They are 2-3 this year so far under Avery in the Yankee Small College Conference (YSCC), which includes Unity College (Maine), NHTI, Paul Smith College (N.Y.), Maine-Machias and St. Joseph's (Vt.).
"We're working on finite skills to make a better player," Avery said. "I want to coach competitive volleyball and it's more fun at this level. You get to see the improvement at this stage."
Avery, a 2009 Spaulding High School graduate, was hired in July, so she did not have a lot of time to recruit. Even so, she was able to recruit six of the nine players.
Of the nine on the roster, seven have past volleyball experience. Amanda Hale played for Unity College last year before transferring to GBCC this fall. Ashley LaValley was an all-state player at Farmington High School, a member of the school's 2009 D-III state championship team. Debbie Peabody starred at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy. She played on the Bears 2013 Division II state championship squad and currently holds the high school state record for career digs (1,596). Sam Andrews played for the Exeter High School varsity team.
Some of the other players have volleyball experience in some form. There are two players on the roster who have never played the sport before.
As one might expect, the lack of experience has its drawbacks.
"It's definitely been a barrier at times when doing drills," Avery said. "But they have a willingness to work, so it all depends on the individual."
Avery has had to set her bar a bit lower than what she originally envisioned. "We're starting with the basics," she said. "We're teaching diving and passing, teaching the basics like high school."
Avery's volleyball background includes her time as a standout at Spaulding, where she was a three-year starter, a captain, and an all-state player as a sophomore. Her senior year, 2008, the Red Raiders won the Division I state title.
She played one year at Plymouth State University (2009) before transferring to Hesser College, which did not have volleyball. At Hesser she earned her associate's degree in Medical Assisting and is a recent grad of Granite State College, receiving a B.S. in Health. She is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Public Health through the University of New England. She lives in Rochester with her husband, Brett Leprohon.
She works for Medtronic Advanced Energy, where her schedule gives her the flexibility to coach that she did not have the previous five years working as a certified medical assistant.
What she lacks in coaching experience, Avery feels she more than makes up with her "strong personality and adaptability. My enthusiasm lifts up the team. I get more excited than them sometimes."
She lists her dad as a coaching influence. He helped coach her during youth softball, where she learned the importance of structure and the need to respect her coaches.
Her high school volleyball coaches Steve McEntire and George Pendleton were also major coaching role models. "They did a great job. They told us here is how we coach and here are our expectations."
She recalls during her senior season with Spaulding, the team lost to Pinkerton. They turned around and swept the Astros in the championship, 3-0. "It's how you work together to improve," she said.
Avery wants her players to improve at GBCC.
"They need to work out what they need to do," she said. "Get excited and get some energy. Come out as a well-rounded unit.
"The biggest thing," she added," is they have to work on confidence as individuals and as a team. Some play timid. They need to get out of that shell."
GBCC athletic director Allyson Britton is happy to have Avery on board.
"We love Erica's energy and drive," Britton said. "She is passionate and brings a fresh perspective and that is exactly what we were looking for. Her ambition and relentlessness recruiting throughout the summer has earned her a great group of ladies to work with this season. We are extremely excited to have Erica on board. "
Avery is already recruiting for next year, while focused on the current challenge of making the Herons the best they can be.
"I know we're rebuilding," she said. "But I want to win. They need someone there to push and motivate. I come out every game and I lose my voice. But I think that helps. I think there's more unity on the team than last year."
And that's a good start.
Mike Whaley is the Sports Editor for Foster's Daily Democrat and the Rochester Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.