Lindsey wasn’t planning to leave Stanford, but Santa Clara “too good of an opportunity”

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Erin Lindsey-Jenna Gray
Erin Lindsey visits with setter Jenna Gray during a Stanford match last season/Stanford photo

Erin Lindsey has been an on-the-move volleyball coach the past few years.

Now she’s likely in a place where she’ll probably stick around a while. 

After a five-year run in her first head-coaching job where Dartmouth made significant improvements, Lindsey joined Kevin Hambly’s staff at Illinois in 2016. But after her one season at the Big Ten power, Hambly got the job as the head coach at Stanford.

Lindsey went along and had two incredible seasons in Palo Alto. In 2017, Stanford got to the NCAA semifinals and then won it all last December.

“I wasn’t looking to leave. I saw myself at Stanford for at least a couple of more years,” Lindsey said.

But then the job at Santa Clara, just 20 miles away, opened up, and she simply had to go after it.

“In the bigger picture, I always wanted to go back to head coaching,” Lindsey said. “I didn’t leave head coaching because I didn’t like head coaching. I left head coaching because Kevin called me at Illinois and knew I wanted to get back to a high level of volleyball and work my way west. It made sense to leave Dartmouth, but it was ultimately to lead to getting that next head coaching job.” 

Santa Clara finished 6-24 last season, 1-17 in the West Coast Conference, a league that sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament (BYU, San Diego, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Saint Mary’s).

“When this came up it was too good of an opportunity and in this profession timing is never what you want it to be, necessarily … and I was excited because it was the WCC,” Lindsey said.

And Santa Clara has a rich volleyball history. The Broncos made it to the NCAA semifinals in 2005 under coach Jon Wallace, who left last season after 20 years at the helm.

“Jon had done an exceptional job with the program,” Lindsey said. “He built it up and was very competitive. I knew there was so much potential and when I watched all the film and all the matches from last year, it was not like there was that much of a talent discrepancy from the rest of the conference, there was so much inconsistency of who was on the court and in what position and that, combined with the youth, they just struggled.”

After beating Pacific, the Broncos finished with nine defeats.

“I inherited a very young team and what’s nice, is they all got a lot of playing experience in the WCC last year,” Lindsey said. “What was challenging was they didn’t win a lot. 

“A lot of that was because of youth and they struggled a lot with injuries last year. So when I got there it was really important for me to figure out why are we injured, why are we geting injured this much. We looked at the training, the strength and conditioning, and I just wanted to get us into a healthy place so we would use the talent we have.”

Lindsey, a setter, grew up in Hawai’i. Her younger sister, Lindsey Berg, played at Minnesota and was a three time USA Olympic setter who was coached by Hambly when he was the national team. The Berg’s father, Dennis, was a coach at Santa Barbara where he coached Mike Hebert and Dave Shoji.

“I’ve been around coaching a long time,” Lindsey understated.

Erin, 41, went to North Carolina where she was the 1998 ACC player of the year. She coached there for five years and was a club coach in North Carolina as well, although when first out of college she spent five years in advertising and marketing.

Coaching at Dartmouth is one thing, but knowing she had proteges like Jordyn Poulter at Illinois and then Jenna Gray at Stanford — “It was struggle to leave Jenna at Stanford, especially before her senior year. But she’ll be fine” — had to be exciting for the Santa Clara players.

Poulter, a VolleyballMag.com first-team All-American last year, competed for the USA national team this summer as it clinched a 2020 Olympics bid. Gray was a VBM third-team All-American. 

“Coming in after the season we had at Stanford and it just being Stanford helps a ton as far as getting people on board,” Lindsey admitted. 

On the flip side, there’s only one Stanford and any move could be perceived as a step down. 

“Yeah, I know what you mean, but I’ve been a lot of other places before Stanford and I think that’s what allowed me to not feel that way,” Lindsey said. “I was so grateful to be at Stanford and work with those exceptional young women. And to work with Kevin and chase championships is a bit of a different kind of job. 

“We’re all doing the same thing, obviously, coaching college volleyball, but the pieces of it that matter the most are really different when you’re at that level versus some of the other places I’ve been.”

Speaking of Hambly, he was thrilled to get her to Illinois and then to Stanford.

“She did a great job at Dartmouth and I’ve always wanted to work with her,” Hambly said. “I’ve known her a long time. I think after what she did at Dartmouth she was ready for something new and a new challenge.”

The Stanford opening came out of the blue after that first season she was at Illinois.

“It was nice to have her follow me to Stanford,” Hambly said. It was great.”

To Lindsey’s point, the bulk of the Santa Clara team remains young. 

Michelle Shaffer-Erin Lindsey
Santa Clara’s Michelle Shaffer hits against San Diego in a 2018 match/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

There are four seniors, led by Alexa Dreyer (second on the team with 212 kills, 1.96/set, and leading blocker with 93, six solo), a middle from San Mateo, Calif., and Michell Gajdka, an outside from San Francisco who had 85 kills, 1.31/set, but who only played in about half the sets all season. Taylor Odom, a 6-2 product of Bellevue, Washington, will likely be one of the middles.

The go-to player was 5-11 Michelle Shaffer, a sophomore from Thousand Oaks, Calif., who as a freshman led in kills (297, 2.75/set), aces (29), had 46 blocks — seven solo — and was second on the team in digs with 294 (2.72/set).

“She ended having to be a six-rotation outside because they were out of hitters. But she came to Santa Clara to set and she told me that when she got the job,” Lindsey said. “I told her, ‘Michelle, if you want to set, I’ll train you to set.’ Because I’ve trained a lot of setters and she can do this and she’s a very good athlete.”

The setter is 6-1 Liliana Light, a sophomore from Rancho Murieta, Calif., who led with 2 aces and had 33 blocks.

“Lily can hit, too, so I might run an old-school true 6-2 where both my setters hit,” Lindsey said.

Allison Kantor, a 6-foot junior outside from Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., had 195 kills (2.22/set) and 50 blocks, and Kamrin Caoili, a 6-foot right side from San Jose, had 166 kills (2.52/set).

One of the incoming freshman, whom Lindsey called “exceptional,” is 6-5 Julia Sangiacomo from Napa.

“She’s a six-rotation outside and I can’t take any credit for it, obviously, because (Wallace) locked her up. She has a big Santa Clara history.”

Indeed, her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents all attended Santa Clara.

“She’s a great coach,” Hambly said. “Our players loved being coached by her and playing for her. She’s just an easy person to be around and work with. She had a good influence on all our players, not just those setters, but she was specifically training our setters.

“She’ll do amazing things there.”

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