If there was a club volleyball equivalent to college and professional coaching greats such as Bill Belichick (NFL’s New England Patriots), Nick Saban (current Alabama head football coach) and Gregg Popovich (NBA’s San Antonio Spurs), you wouldn’t have to look very far to see that Texas Advantage Volleyball veteran Ping Cao fits that bill.
Cao, a native of China and member of the 1984 Chinese Olympic team, recently coached TAV 17 Black to the 17 Open title at the recent USA Volleyball junior nationals in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s the sixth time in the last nine years Cao-led teams have taken home gold in the Open division.
TAV, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, went 11-0 and outlasted Mintonette Sports m.71 for the title.
Cao’s continued mastery in the coaching profession makes him an easy choice as the 2019 VolleyballMag.com girls club coach of the year.
“One thing this team did well this year was trust the process,” Cao told VolleyballMag.com. “They believed in each other and pushed each other to get better every day.”
Cao can’t put a finger on what TAV improved on the most during its march to the national title. “It’s hard to say,” he noted. “I think each kid grew and improved individually, which translated to the team improving a lot.”
TAV’s Iman Ndiaye, the tournament MVP, said Cao’s greatness as a coach correlates to the extreme investment he has in each team he coaches. “In my opinion, what makes Ping a great coach is his dedication to make each individual player better,” she said. “His knowledge of the game is extraordinary. He helps players learn the right way to pass, hit and block. He’s a great coach because he simplifies each skill, which makes it easy to learn from him.”
TAV’s Paige Flickinger said Cao’s teams are so successful because of how high a standard he sets for each one. “He set the bar really high for us from the first practice, and never dropped the standard,” she said. “Ping expected perfection from us and in turn we started to expect it of ourselves. He does a really good job of getting the team to buy into the overall goal, which is winning nationals.”
Ndiaye added Cao’s vast experience in the sport sets him apart. “It’s his volleyball IQ,” she said. “He’s ahd a lot of experience in high-level volleyball and has spent a long time coaching, so he knows a lot about the sport. Since he spends a lot of time watching volleyball, it makes him a great teacher. Being able to be coached by him is a really cool opportunity because he teaches you all you need to know to be successful.”
Flickinger added: “Not many coaches have been coaching/playing at a high level for as long as Ping has. He knows so much about the game of volleyball, and it really shows when he coaches us. Ping puts a big emphasis on the little things, which really helps to break down the game of volleyball.”
Ndiaye said TAV was prepared for Indianapolis because of the plan Cao put in place. “Ping played a huge role in our team’s success,” she said. “He prepared us super-well for nationals, both physically and mentally. Ping gave us all the tools we needed to be a great team. He taught us discipline, how to fuel our bodies correctly, and prepared us for any tough game situations we would face. Alongside practices and workouts, he made sure to take the time to talk with us about strategy and share his wisdom, making us all better students of the game.”
Flickinger, a member of the 17 Open all-tournament team along with Ndiaye and fellow teammate Madison Williams, said for this year’s team it was a matter of having someone nudge them to the next level. That someone was Cao.
“I think Ping had everything to do with us winning this year,” she said. “We always have been a strong team, but we’ve needed someone to really push us to the next level. Specifically, we always have been a weaker passing team so every time we were in the gym we were getting as many passing reps as we could. The improvement in passing and overall ball control was crucial to our run at nationals and Ping is to thank.”
While Cao is known throughout club circles as a demanding coach, he also has a lighter side to him.
“Before every match, the girls get into a circle and everyone does a small dance,” Flickinger said. “At the end, Ping does one too. His favorite move is the Charlie Brown where his knees move in and out and his hands alternate knees. If you can imagine Ping doing this, you, for sure, can get a good laugh.”
Ndiaye added that Cao has a penchant for showing the girls magic tricks between games and at tournaments. “He would show these ‘magic tricks’ and the whole team would be trying to figure out how he did it and we would all try it,” she said. “Outside of volleyball, we laugh a lot with him. He’s a funny guy.”
But don’t go expecting Cao to take a scintilla of credit for what happened this season. “We work hard, play our level and try the best we can,” he said. “The part I liked the most about this team is their want to get better. Even on the hardest days, they showed up, encouraged each other and pushed each other.”
Other 2019 Girls Club selections:
Player of the Year Jess Mruzik