Volleyball: Hirschinger still going strong in 18th season
Published: Monday, December 2, 2013
Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 22:12
Jill Hirschinger never envisioned herself playing volleyball in college.
“I didn’t like volleyball,” Hirschinger said. “I thought it was a slow sport. My first love was basketball and I was on the track and field team [in college].”
Now 18 years into being the head coach of the UNH volleyball team, Hirschinger has achieved it all. Four conference championships, five coach-of-the-year awards, and three, soon to be four, appearances in the NCAA tournament are a few of her achievements. But beneath it all is a coach who will do whatever her team needs of her.
“Her coaching style is whatever we need it to be,” senior captain Morgan Thatcher said. “Whether that be lifting us up when we’re down, bringing us down when we’re too up, letting us enjoy something and getting us back on track, giving us a break when we’re banged up, whatever, she does it.”
Hirschinger teaches order and discipline to her players.
“Tuck in your shirts, be thankful for what you have, always say ‘thank you,’” Hirschinger said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
But it’s not all serious all the time for her. Players such as Destiny Tolliver recall meeting Hirschinger for the first time, and how she barked like a dog to make her feel less shy and force her to start talking.
Hirschinger didn’t start playing volleyball until college at New Mexico State. After finding out that two Olympic coaches had joined the volleyball program staff, Hirschinger saw an opportunity to learn from some experienced coaches, even if it was in a sport she never liked.
“I was horrible at first, just really bad,” Hirschinger said. “But I stuck with it, got better and I really started to love it.”
After her freshman year, Hirschinger transferred to Utah State, following the same coaches who had inspired her to go with the sport she described as slow. Once there, Hirschinger played every position, never being an elite player. She worked hard and was eventually named a captain.
But for Hirschinger it wasn’t necessarily about playing, but about the strategy and the game. Her years with the coaching staff led to frequent conversations about the coaching side of the game, why things worked a certain way, and why a specific strategy would work over another.
There were days at Utah State where Hirschinger would act more like a coach than she would a player, barking orders at her teammates, lining everyone up, and even correcting young assistant coaches when they were wrong. It was evident to her coaches that she was born to coach.
It wasn’t an accident, however; to Hirschinger, it was something she had always wanted.
“When I was in elementary school and we were asked what we wanted to be, I wrote down ‘coach,’” Hirschinger said. “From the strategy, to the way the game worked, to motivating, everything about it was what I wanted and still want. To being able to coach people, impact them and make their lives better, it felt right.”
After graduating from Utah State, Hirschinger’s coaches were so impressed with her focus on the court and her demand from her teammates that they spread her name around the coaching community. Hirschinger got some interviews and a job offer to work under her coaches as an assistant coach. But she wanted more and applied for the head-coaching job at Drake University, an institute with a division one volleyball program.
Just like that, at the age of 22, Hirschinger was the head coach of Drake University, barely six months older than some of her senior players.
“I didn’t know how to build a program,” Hirschinger said. “I learned a lot from just going to the office, sitting down and figuring it out, thinking about what to do, going to conventions, talking to people, doing it. A lot of that has helped me figure out how to be a better coach.”
Day after day, Hirschinger learned a little bit more. Hours were spent in her office, going over simple things from talking to a player to devising a game plan for the toughest opponent.