October 22, 2014
Volleyball Coach Notches 200th Win for Program She Founded
Oct. 16, 2013
Coach Marci Sanders recently led the UT Dallas volleyball team to its 200th win. Sanders was tasked with starting the program when she joined the school in 2004.
Nearly 10 years later, she is celebrating her 200th win. Sanders has become one of the most successful coaches in the University’s history.
“It’s not just mine, it’s the girls’,” Sanders said of the win against Huston-Tillotson University in August. “We get good kids here at UT Dallas.”
Sanders’ teams have won more than 20 games a year for seven years in a row, earned back-to-back American Southwest Conference titles in 2008 and 2009, and were the only NCAA Division III team in the country to finish a regular season undefeated when they went 25-0 in 2009.
Sanders didn’t always love volleyball. Growing up in Amarillo with three boys – a brother and male cousins – Sanders preferred soccer, T-ball and basketball.
“I was very much a contact sport person,” Sanders said. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been competitive.”
In middle school, however, she learned that if she wanted to play basketball, she had to play volleyball and run track. By eighth grade, she began to appreciate the strategy involved in the game.
“And the first time I bounced a volleyball off someone’s head, I realized this could be a contact sport,” she said.
Sanders recruited the largest team in the program's history this year. The majority of this year's players are freshmen and sophomores.
Sanders was asked to play on the team at Palo Duro High School, and was captain her junior and senior years. She went on to play for two years at the College of the Southwest in Hobbs, N.M., and then at Angelo State University in San Angelo.
Sanders planned to become an athletic trainer or a physical therapist, until her mentor at Angelo State said she’d make a good college coach. When the assistant coach left that year, Sanders accepted the position.
Four years later, with a graduate degree in kinesiology, she began looking for a head coach position.
“UT Dallas popped up,” Sanders said. “They wanted to start a volleyball program. The recreational sports program was solid, and they had the equipment, nets and standards in place. UT Dallas was ready to go. The hard part was recruiting kids to something new.”
Today, the recruiting process still can be a challenge, Sanders said. As a Division III school, UT Dallas doesn't offer athletic scholarships, so students sign on because they love the game. But with increased enrollment and a history of a successful team, Sanders recruited the largest team in the program’s history this year.
Sanders and her longtime assistant coach, Zach Villarreal, lead daily required practices for the team members, who play up to five games a week during the volleyball season. Weight-training is done on the players’ time.
At UT Dallas, players also balance a strenuous academic load with the demands of a championship athletic program.
The UT Dallas volleyball team will compete in the American Southwest Conference Tournament for the 10th straight season. The Comets, 20-6 overall and 12-1 in ASC play, are currently first place in the ASC with only away games remaining on the schedule. If they finish the regular season in the top spot, they will host the tournament Nov. 7-9.
“We have players who are pre-med, computer science and management majors. Our kids aren’t taking any fluff courses,” Sanders said. “They’re hard workers and very smart on and off the court. We just have great, quality kids.”
Sanders said she has changed her coaching strategy over the last decade to connect more effectively with millennials. Her team this season is primarily freshmen and sophomores.
“We’re giving them more of a voice. We definitely empower them,” Sanders said. “I feel we listen more, and we give them more detailed instructions to help them make decisions on their own. You have to trust your team to do in matches what you’ve trained them to do in practices.”
But she steps in when needed.
“In tight situations, Zach and I still take over. That takes the pressure off them,” she said.
The connection she enjoys with her team doesn’t end at graduation. She keeps a large scrapbook in her office brimming with wedding invitations and baby announcements she’s received from former players.
“That’s always nice to hear from them. I add to it every year,” Sanders said.