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Time To Rebuild



By Griffin Fabits,  College Times

Tim Nollan didn’t mince words when addressing last year’s Grand Canyon University women’s volleyball season.

“We definitely didn’t have the season we wanted,” Nollan says postpractice. “There’s no question about it.”

And frankly, it’s hard to argue with that. The Lopes commenced their 2018 campaign with four wins in their first five matches before injuries derailed the rest of their fall. They stumbled to an 11-18 finish en route to their third consecutive losing season.

“We had a season-ending injury in the first week, before we even played a match,” Nollan remembers. “It was someone who we had kind of penciled in as someone who was going to be a big, big contributor.”

Nollan, entering his fourth season at the helm of the Lopes, is eager to part ways with the sour taste the 2018 season left him with. It’s all but a distant memory now—a mere learning experience.

And along with entering this season with a healthy roster of 16, he feels GCU is on the doorstep of winning 20-plus games this year. It’s a feat the program hasn’t seen since the fall of 2014.

“We have the ability to score points better now. We have more pieces, and the pieces we have, have developed. We’ve brought in more and more and more. We have more arms, more offensive threats.”

A chunk of that development comes via Nollan’s impressive background as an established recruiter. Before GCU, he spent nine years at his alma mater University of Southern California— Nollan graduated from USC in 2000— with the women’s volleyball program, five of them as an associate head coach. He was the team’s recruiting coordinator, and the Trojans routinely boasted some of the top recruiting classes in the nation.

His 2010 recruiting class at USC, per GCULopes.com, was listed as the top-ranked class in the country by PrepVolleyball.com. He garnered top-two classes in several years that followed. The Trojans are the owners of a storied background, rich with NCAA tournament appearances and conference titles.

It’s what makes this 2019 season so fascinating. The Lopes’ highly touted skipper has had his fingerprints on the program for nearly four years now, and the results are slowly trickling in.

The first handful of seasons a college coaching staff endures are often murky, given the efforts to implement a new system with players it’s lacked in recent years, which subsequently allows them to work at a different pace this year.

“They know how to create opportunities to be successful,” he says. “They don’t have to wait for the other team to make a mistake. That’s a big difference that we can feel. We’ve seen it in the practice gym, the scrimmage we had. They understand how to win and create and force those opportunities, as opposed to hoping the other team gives them those opportunities.”

The 2019 squad returns 12 players, including some of its top contributors from last year. Among them is co-captain and junior libero Teagan DeFalco.

DeFalco, who led the Lopes last season with 523 digs, was named to the 2019 Preseason All-WAC Team by coaches in the conference.

Her third season at GCU has already offered a refreshing change of pace, a glimpse of optimism that’s been lost on the program since her arrival in 2017.

“(Last year) was tough,” she says. “As a really young team, we didn’t really have much leadership, we didn’t really have much direction. Now this year, we have way more leadership. We have a direction. We just are motivation to be better than last year. It’s not fun losing, and nobody wants to lose.

“This year, we’re very, very determined, and that’s different from last year.”

Four years ago, when Nollan was still at USC, he was targeted by GCU officials as a top candidate to fill the volleyball program’s head coaching vacancy. He was invited to campus by the university’s president, Brian Mueller. Though content with the gig he had in Southern California, he obliged, taking Mueller up on the offer to take a look around campus. No harm in at least going down there, he surmised.

But once he arrived inside the gates at GCU he was “completely floored.” He loved USC. He was happy there, living nearby to family and coaching for his alma mater. But he was also aware of the once-in-a-career opportunity that was now sitting in his lap.

“When I came here, half the stuff wasn’t here. It was parking lots, construction zones. President Mueller sat down with a campus map and said, ‘This is what it is today, this is the fiveyear plan, this is the 10-year plan.’

“He walked me through it. His parting sentence to me was, ‘To take this job and be successful at it, you have to be a forward thinker, not a backward thinker. You can’t look back and go, oh, well, we had all these All-Americans. No. That’s not what this job is. This job is, look at how great this future can be. Look at this campus. Look at the state of Arizona volleyball. Look at the draw. Phoenix is a destination city. Look at all these things—the student support. What can you build with that?’”

He was wowed. It was a no-brainer to shake Mueller’s hand, accept the job and begin rebuilding GCU’s program.

He was officially named the program’s seventh head coach on January 9, 2016.

Nollan’s done exactly that— rebuild—in his first trio of years. In year one, the fall 2016, he won six games. The next year was eight, the following was 11. Slowly but surely, Nollan is working to turn a stone and reintroduce the Lopes to winning volleyball again.

Told that, from 2009-14, GCU racked up four 20-win seasons, Nollan’s eyes lit up. Just how close are they to that threshold? “Real close.”

The Lopes opened up the 2019 regular season in promising fashion, winning the Hampton Inn & Suites Northern Colorado Classic with a 3-0 record. Nollan’s 2019 quest to getting GCU on the map as a “nationally ranked” program began just how they anticipated.

The sample-size is small, sure. But the consensus among the Lopes suggests Grand Canyon University is soon to be housing a premier volleyball program once more.


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