March 26, 2014
Michelle Collier (pronounced Michelle-E Col-e-AY) knows her way around the volleyball court.
Hired as the eighth head coach of the Georgia Tech Volleyball program on March 21, she’s excelled on volleyball courts at the highest level, be it playing in the sand on the beaches of her native Brazil, on college hardwoods in Tampa, Florida, professional courts in Cyprus, Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Spain and The Netherlands, or coaching from the sidelines in Tampa, Columbia, S.C., or Jacksonville, Fla.
Collier was a dynamic player at South Florida from 1998 through 2002, graduating with a school-record 2,729 career kills, still fifth all-time in NCAA history. She was a four-time All-Conference-USA First-Teamer and the conference’s Player of the Decade, was the first volleyball player in USF history to earn All-America honors (Third Team in 2002), the first to earn a place in the school’s Hall of Fame and the only one to have her number retired.
On the pro level, her accolades included MVP honors in the Indonesian League and being named the Best Foreign Player in Cyprus’ pro league.
She similarly excelled as a teacher on the sidelines, first as an assistant at her alma mater (2008, ’09), then at South Carolina from 2010-11, working with the teams’ outside hitters. Both the Bulls and Gamecocks saw dramatic improvement from their hitters and made jumps in the standings within their respective conferences — the Gamecocks program made an unprecedented seven-game improvement in 2011.
Collier finally ascended to the hot seat at Jacksonville in 2012, becoming that program’s eighth head coach. After a 10-24 first season, the Dolphins turned things around in a big way last season. They went 30-4, won the Atlantic Sun championship, and earned the school’s first berth in the NCAA Tournament since 2004. Collier was named Conference Coach of the Year.
Georgia Tech’s NCAA Tournament drought hasn’t been as long as Jacksonville’s was, as the Jackets made it 2009, but Tech’s new head coach has no plans on extending it in 2014.
Collier, who will be the subject of a full feature in the upcoming issue of Buzz magazine, took time recently to talk with The Good Word about a number of topics, including, what makes her tick as a coach, what she’s looking for in her players and where she expects them to be by season’s end.
THE GOOD WORD: Congratulations on your hiring by Georgia Tech. What was the interviewing process like to for the job? What did you know about the school and the program prior to your hiring?
Michelle Collier: I got a phone call from Theresa Wenzel, the SWA here, just asking me if I was interested in the position. My goal was to come to the interview and just learn from the process but I got in here and it didn’t feel like a real interview. People were easy to talk to. They were very welcoming. There was a lot of excitement about the volleyball program. I know what Georgia Tech is capable of and being in a great, great conference like the ACC, it was a no-brainer. It seemed like they had a lot of good things in place. The feedback that I got from everybody has been it’s a great group of young ladies that have a lot of talent and they’re ready to work hard to reach that next level. I’m excited with the opportunity to bring the program back to where it was before and with the amount of growth that we’re going to have.
TGW: What is your coaching philosophy?
COLLIER: I grew up in a country where volleyball is a pretty big sport. There’s a lot of passion when it’s played. I also have traveled the world to play so I’ve learned from different coaches in different places. I’ve had Chinese coaches. I’ve had European coaches. I’ve had coaches from Brazil. So I’ve learned the game in a lot of different ways. It’s made me appreciate the game more and I can relate to different ways of teaching it. I think that’s what I want to bring in to the philosophy here and to the vision of this team. We’re going to be thankful for the opportunity that we have and we’re going to work hard to be the best team that we can be. We want to make this an unforgettable experience for these players just like I had my college experience. You remember back to those days when you played and it was so much fun because guys were playing together, were playing hard. That’s what this should be about. It’s being good teammates, enjoying their opportunity because nowhere else in the world will young women have the opportunity to earn an education and play at a high level as here in the United States. So they need to be thankful for that, they need to be grateful for that and they need to have no regrets about what we’re doing and really just go hard and see what happens.
TGW: Is there one trait you had that you want to see in your players?
COLLIER: One of the main characteristics of the Brazilian players are that they play with so much heart and passion and I think that I’m going to try to get that out of my players. They’ve got to love what they do and they’ve got to understand how much work needs to be put into it but that it’s all worth it.
TGW: In your professional career you played in several countries. Which was your favorite?
COLLIER: My favorite country was Indonesia, for sure. That league was just awesome in terms of the atmosphere that we played in. We had a lot of people go watch our games, so there was 10,000-to-15,000 people at every match. We traveled the country to different cities and all the teams would play there. So it was kind of an event every weekend that we went and played. It was a pretty unique experience. Spain was definitely the highest level and the biggest competition, but just kind of an overall life of volleyball experience, I think Indonesia was pretty cool. It was such a different culture but at the same time, such great people. I learned a lot from them, it’s a beautiful country, and the atmosphere of going out there and playing volleyball was pretty cool.
TGW: What are your expectations for this year’s team?
COLLIER: I think just raising the expectations. Raising the expectations in the gym, looking at ourselves as a group that has the potential to be back in the NCAA Tournament and, of course, we’re going to take steps to get to that. That has to be the expectation. That has to be what they’re trying to get out of this season and the next season.
TGW: You are fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Which language do you plan to use when addressing an official?
COLLIER: That depends. (laughs). I would say English. It depends on what I’m trying to accomplish. I will try to address them in English as much as possible. I would say that.
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