The past 31 years of Falcon volleyball history have only seen three coaches, but after former Head Coach Chris Johnson’s resignation earlier in the year, a fourth has come to take the helm.
Abbie Wright, a 28 year-old Cardiff, California native stepped in to take over for Johnson at the beginning of the quarter, moving on from her assistant coaching position at her alma mater Biola University.
“[I am] really grateful for the opportunity to be at such a cool university,” Wright said. “It’s been a great experience thus far.”
Wright has been working with the team for about two months in hopes of an early preparation for the upcoming fall season, and her efforts seem to be highly effective among the team.
Junior libero Sophie Kuehl feels this Spring Quarter has been the toughest quarter of volleyball yet at SPU, but it is an experience in which the team has grown.
“I can truly say that we have grown more than we ever have in these past two months with [Wright] as our coach,” Kuehl said. “She has pushed us harder than anyone ever has, but it’s because she knows that we are able to come together as one and work through every challenge that we might encounter.”
Kuehl attributed the team’s best physical and mental shape of the year to the past two months.
Sophomore setter and team captain Symone Tran spoke on the team’s fortune of training under Wright prior to the fall.
“You know it’s hard to transition from coach to coach, but I feel as though it was a blessing that she came during Spring Quarter,” Tran said. “I think that gave us a leg up. We were able to get to know each other better and understand her expectations. It’s nice to get a different eye to the game.”
A fresh perspective is only one of the things that separates her from her male predecessor.
“I think just being a female coach is the biggest difference [between Johnson and I] — we will probably interpret and react to some things differently simply because of this,” Wright said. “I do know he established a culture that was competitive and God honoring, and that is something that I desire to continue, so we are very similar in the vision we have for the program.”
Wright’s young age has helped the team relate to their coach, and her playing experience has given them new knowledge on their respective positions.
“[Wright] has recently been in the game, so she can understand where we, as college athlete [women], are coming from,” Tran said.
An All-American setter, Wright currently holds the Biola records for most matches played (143), most sets played (508) and most service aces (182). Her teams made it to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics finals during all of her four years.
“Going into college I never really knew what I wanted to do, but as the years have gone by I haven’t seemed to be able to separate myself from the gym,” Wright said. “The older I get, the more I realize how passionate about [volleyball] I am. I’ve been pretty blessed that the Lord has opened opportunities for me to coach full time — it still seems like a dream that it has turned into my career.”
Her coaching triumphs are equally as impressive to her playing record, as she received the American Volleyball Coaches Association / NAIA Southwest Region and National Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2015.
This past year she was also listed in American Volleyball Coaches Association’s “30 Under 30” list.
“I am truly honored to play underneath [Wright] even though it’s only for one more season, and I am so excited that the program is under her leadership and direction,” Kuehl said. “Her Christ-like spirit is evident, and she makes sure that each and every day we glorify God for the ability to play and give thanks to him always.”
Growing up with a father who coached basketball her entire life, Wright had learned what integrity and drive looked like. And her time at Biola further aided that.
“There were a lot of things I learned, but the first was how to glorify God with what we do and also be as competitive as possible while doing it,” Wright said. “We wanted to win, but my head coach knew how to balance that while still maintaining a great team culture.”
As an assistant, Wright said, she had the freedom to concentrate on the little aspects of the game.
“I learned the technique of the game a lot more, and I learned that there is a lot to coaching besides what happens in the gym,” Wright said.
Wright says that a lot of a coach’s work is done behind the scenes, which can be the most challenging aspect of it, but at the same time the most rewarding.
“She is very much so focused on unifying us together as one group whether you are a [first-year] or a senior,” Kheul said. “I feel that being a female collegiate team it is even more important for us to be on the same page and have chemistry with one another, and that is something that [Wright] really focuses on creating for us players.”
Looking forward, Falcon volleyball is expecting to see some big changes under the new strategies that Wright has implemented.
Kheul predicts an exciting season for not only players, but for Falcon fans as well.
“There are a lot of changes that of been made for the better, and I really think that we have the potential to be one of the top in our conference,” Kheul said. “That’s going to require us to continue working hard through the summer, but that is something that we all plan on doing.”
“We have been grinding, but it’s only the beginning,” Tran added.
Wright is ultimately hoping to rekindle each player’s love for the game and to emphasize that over the score.
“I expect our team to be mindful of why we do what we do and to come into each day excited and ready to learn,” Wright said.
Only two months in, Wright already sees the existing talent and skill among the team, which is only continuing to grow.
“What excites me most about our group are their attitudes and readiness to learn,” Wright said. “They have really bought into the things we have been talking about, and they are a group that cares deeply for one another and their school. You can do a lot with a group that has character, is coachable and is ready to work hard.”