TERRE HAUTE —
Reflecting on the 151⁄2 seasons since her hiring in 1996, which came soon after Rose-Hulman started admitting female students, Brenda Goble thinks she has improved as the only volleyball coach in the engineering institute’s history.
“I feel like I’ve softened up a lot,” Goble told the Tribune-Star recently. “At a place like Rose-Hulman, you have to find ways to bend and give-and-take with the student-athletes. I never was that coach [who treated players disrespectfully]. I never cursed at players. I don’t grab them by the throat or throw clipboards or chairs… We’ve evolved together, I believe.”
Goble’s year-by-year records seem to back up her last statement.
This season, for example, the Engineers are 12-6 overall. They’re threatening to break the school mark for most victories in a season (20 set in 2009) and they recently notched the 200th win in program history. They’ve still never won a conference championship, but they’re hoping that will change in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC) in 2011.
“We have more depth and more athleticism than ever before,” Goble explained. “We have 11 returnees… It’s the first time ever that we’ve had so many student-athletes deciding to come back and compete for a position or to be out on the court.”
Early in Goble’s career, there were lean years — 3-16 in 1996, 6-31 in 1998 and 7-34 in 2005 to name a few — but she never let them get her down mentally.
“It’s hard to start a program from scratch and that’s what we’ve done here at Rose-Hulman with all of our women’s programs,” she emphasized. “It hasn’t been easy. It doesn’t just happen overnight… The recent achievement of 200 wins for the volleyball program, my hat goes off to every single alum who worked so hard — practicing, competing, whether we won or lost — to build the program from nothing.”
There were some seasons when Goble had only seven or eight players on the roster. This season, the Engineers have 17.
“Over the years, we’ve gotten better athletes,” she mentioned. “We’ve gotten more females on campus with an interest in playing volleyball.”
Even with that increased interest, dedication to academics has not declined. In 2009 and 2010, the players’ outstanding grade-point averages earned Rose inclusion on the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Academic All-American teams. During the 2010-11 school year, its team GPA was 3.478.
Remember, Rose-Hulman doesn’t offer basket weaving as one of its courses either.
Much credit for Rose’s recent successes on and off the court goes to its three seniors — 6-foot middle hitter/right side Karah Hickman, 6-2 middle hitter/right side Morgan Williams (tallest player on the team) and 5-9 defensive specialist/outside hitter Leah Pelzel — who are all biomedical-engineering majors. During Rose-Hulman’s previous seasons since they arrived as freshmen in 2008, records have been 18-15, 20-13 and 19-10.
“We came ready to work and make a change in the program,” Williams assessed. “We had backgrounds and positions that maybe the team needed at that time. We came from some pretty good high school teams.”
“I think the coaches are doing a really good job of recruiting,” Pelzel pointed out. “They’ve gotten a lot of girls here who came from really strong high school programs. Out of us seniors, I know we all came from strong high school programs, like my team won state when I was in high school [at Mount Notre Dame in Loveland, Ohio].”
“I think we’ve been getting more and more skilled classes coming in [since 2008],” Hickman added. “That’s helped us improve. And when you start getting winning records, more people [such as potential high school recruits] look at us as a more serious team.”
Goble said her primary goal for the immediate future is to keep her players “healthy and happy.”
“I know with this group of individuals, the sky is the limit,” she continued. “If we can keep them healthy and happy and they keep buying in to what’s working for us … the sky is the limit for this group.”
During separately conducted interviews, the three seniors all mentioned an HCAC championship as a goal.
“My goal is to win conference and I think that is most everyone’s goal on this team,” Pelzel said. “It would be great to host the conference tournament [which would require winning the regular-season title first] and move on to the NCAA [Division III] tournament.”
“I think we have a really good shot at winning conference,” Williams echoed. “We have a lot of really strong players this year… That’s something we’re aiming for right now.”
“I really think we can win conference,” Hickman stressed. “We have a really strong team. If we just play like we know we can and we know we’re able to, I think we can go really far.”
Goble also would not object to capturing the HCAC crown, but that won’t be the make-or-break factor for determining if this ends up as a successful season.
“It would be great,” she acknowledged. “But as long as my girls get out there and give 100 percent, I will not be disappointed with any outcome.
“I hope we make the conference tournament [consisting of the top six teams from the regular season]. You can’t put the cart before the horse. I really am a firm believer in where you take one match at a time and that’s exactly what this group has bought into.”
Rose will return to action Saturday when it plays host to conference foe Hanover, starting at 1:30 p.m.
The Engineers, who lost at Transylvania last Saturday, trail Defiance (3-0), Mount St. Joseph (3-0) and Transylvania (2-0) in the HCAC standings, while Hanover and Bluffton are tied with Rose-Hulman at 2-1.