In Conners, Aggies net another coaching coup

By From page B1 | August 08, 2014

Goodbye, Champaign, Ill. No more shoveling snow off the doorstep.

Take care, Lincoln, Neb. The stifling humidity and bird-sized mosquitoes are history.

And those Los Angeles traffic jams? A thing of the past.

Dan Conners has discovered Davis.

And more importantly for UC Davis women’s volleyball, Aggie Athletic Director Terry Tumey found Dan Conners.

“We’re very fortunate to find a coach with Dan’s experience and expertise,” Tumey explains. “We’re excited to have him join our athletic program (to) help our players succeed on and off the court.”

I had a chance to sit and talk with the former UCLA player and assistant coach. Here’s a peek at our chat …

“What I really like about Davis is the small-college-town environment,” says Conners, who spent the last two seasons as the lead assistant at Illinois. “It has a little bit of that Midwest feeling here, but also has a little bit of a California vibe.

“I don’t know how to describe it other than granola and, maybe, hippie-ish. I love that.”

Conners, 36, said he loved his time in the Midwest, but he and his wife Becky were ready to come west again. Together with their sons Mason, 8; Wyatt, 2 1/2; and Oliver, 6 months; the couple jumped on the June offer to join Aggie Nation. He replaces Jamie Holmes, who won 100 games in six seasons.

“It was amazing to me how dialed into Nebraska the entire state is (10,000 attendance for volleyball). That was culture shock, just how big athletics are there. But the people were great.

“The people in Illinois were great,” says the two-time national champion player at UCLA. “I really enjoyed the Midwest and the type of mentality the people had there of watching out for each other, taking care of each other.”

Conners laughed while saying “You don’t necessarily get that in a big city. Going to UCLA, my neighbors didn’t know, or even care, that I coached volleyball at the school.

“We go to Nebraska, before I even moved in, I have three neighbors coming by saying ‘Hey, I hear you’re the new volleyball coach,’ then asking how we’re going to do the next year.”

Conners says it’s way too early to know if his women are poised to improve on last year’s 14-15 mark. The team reports Friday and the first practice is Saturday. But otherwise, Becky and Dan and Company have settled into a new place in East Davis and are getting acclimated to their new surroundings.

Conners loved the Farmers Market. He likes that there “are compost piles everywhere … I’m a gardener” and is fired up about exploring more of the city.

But having been named coach late in the cycle, Conners has put his mental pedal to the metal.

“Getting to know how Davis athletics operates” has been his biggest challenge.

He knows that every school runs its sports differently, but in being new to the process he doesn’t like that a “10-minute task often takes an hour, until I figure things out.”

Conners has a style of volleyball he likes, but he isn’t ready to scrap what came before to force his international-feel game into the Aggie psyche. Not just yet …

“My style … spreads out defenses and attacks all areas of the court,” the new coach explains. “The simplicity of it allows for the players to get very good at it.

“Will I incorporate it into this team? Let’s see where we are first,” Conners told me. “I’ll adapt my style … to the strength of this team. I am not set in stone on doing things a specific way.

“Whatever is going to make us the best team, I’m going to go that route.”

Probably why Tumey hired you, coach.

While I Have You Here: Former Illini All-Big Ten player and Illinois State assistant Vicki Brown joined Conners staff last month. And now ex-Ohio State assistant Mike Terrill is on board.

Strength and conditioning coach Renee White returns, as does team manager Kimberly Miller.

By the way, the Aggie women play their first four matches away from The Pavilion before opening at home Sept. 6 against San Jose State. The season opener is Aug. 29 at Rice.

— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.

Bruce Gallaudet

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