When the Northwestern women’s volleyball team left school for winter break last December, it was under the leadership of head coach Keylor Chan. But when the volleyball players returned in January, a new coach was awaiting them inside Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Shane Davis, the former Loyola-Chicago Ramblers men’s volleyball coach, was named Northwestern’s sixth women’s volleyball head coach in school history on Dec. 28, 2015. Loyola's 2016 season started just six days later on Jan. 3, 2016, but evidently the Northwestern job was an opportunity Davis did not want to pass up.
“I actually met coach Davis for the first time at a men’s basketball game. Right after our 2015 season ended, [athletic director] Dr. [Jim] Phillips called the team in and told us about the coaching change,” said Taylor Tashima, a junior setter. “I was so excited for the new coaching staff because of all their expertise, especially with coach Davis being a former setter.”
Over the past 15 years, Davis helped create the foundation of the Loyola volleyball dynasty in more ways than one. As a player for the Ramblers from 2000 to 2003, Davis set a then-school record in assists with 5,337, earning Loyola Male Athlete of the Year honors in 2003.
The following year, Davis traded in his jersey for a suit and tie, becoming head coach of his alma mater. Many collegiate athletes become graduate assistants after their playing career, but Loyola saw something special in Davis – and it paid off. Over the following 12 seasons, the Ramblers amassed a 265-88 record, including back-to-back national championships in 2014 and 2015.
Davis couldn’t help but smile when recalling the series of events that led up to the Ramblers’ first Final Four appearance in 2013.
“We had a lot of freshmen starting with a few seniors sprinkled into the lineup,” said Davis. “We were the underdogs going into our conference tournament, which if we won would get us into the Final Four. We were playing on the road, and weren’t expected to win, but we grinded the championship match out to a fifth set. From there, we had all the wind in our sails and took off to reach the program’s first Final Four.”
Today, the soft-spoken Davis has his eyes set on building NU into a perennial force, akin to Big Ten foe Penn State, who has won six national championships since 2007.
Early in the season, the Wildcats looked like they were on that path, dominating their first four matches and dropping only one set. But NU’s hot start didn’t last, and the ‘Cats won just three of their next eight games.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats’ struggles have only worsened in the Big Ten, where they are 0-6 and have only won a single set. NU lost some major talent to graduation in Caroline Niedospial, and when you combine that with the second-toughest schedule in the country and a new coach who didn’t even have a full offseason with his team, the ‘Cats’ growing pains become apparent.
Nevertheless, Davis has remained cool, calm and collected, according to Symone Abbott, a junior outside hitter.
“He’s a very easy-going guy and easy to talk to,” said Abbott. “Coach always keeps the same tone, regardless of the score. Coach Davis knows volleyball has many pressure situations and yelling won’t get his point across any better than it would if he said it calmly to us.”
Despite a rocky first season and some tough hurdles to climb, Davis is optimistic about how the Northwestern volleyball culture can evolve.
“Moving forward, we want to implement new offensive and defensive systems and get everyone in the program understanding how we do things, and what we need to do,” said Davis. “Obviously, the one big team goal is making the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a few years since the team has been to the NCAA Tournament, and it’s going to take some time, but we are moving in the right direction.”