In 34 years a lot has changed at Sam Houston State University, in fact some might say that everything has changed, but that’s not the case for Bearkat volleyball.
For the last 34 years the volleyball program has had the same head coach, Brenda Gray.
Gray attributes her long career to her love for the game.
“I just have a passion for the game,” Gray said. “I would have to say it’s a deep passion too. I love what I do.”
Gray enjoys her job so much that she doesn’t even consider coaching work. Even when it comes time to do things like volleyball camps she enjoys helping people learn the game.
“I just like being able to help people play the game of volleyball,” Gray said. “It’s a great sport you know. It’s a great game.”
When Gray originally got the job, she was filling in for her former college coach.
“I came back just to help the program keep running while she was sick,” Gray said. “I managed to lose her two captains within the first week because her coaching style was a little more laid back than mine; so we finished with just nine payers that year and we went 52-8 and ended up in the National Championship.”
Over the years, Gray’s coaching style hasn’t changed much. She considers herself a very hard-nosed who also values structure. What has changed most for Gray over the years is the type of player she recruits. Most coaches always try to get players that play only volleyball, but Gray prefers to recruit the multi-sport student athletes.
“I’m not afraid to take risks with players that maybe don’t play a lot of club (volleyball),” Gray said. “I’m still willing to go to a high school and look at a girl who plays more than just volleyball. I like taking athletes that play more than one sport because they are more well-rounded”
Another thing that has changed in Gray’s time at SHSU is the academic rigors that come with being a student athlete. Academically, it’s well known that being a student athlete is tough, and Gray is aware of that. She now tries to recruit players with a better academic track record than perhaps she did before.
“I like to take girls that are a little more academically minded,” Gray said. “Because there are so many hassles now, and our GPA is really high.”
Gray always knew she wanted to coach. She was so sure that she wanted to coach that she didn’t even have a backup plan for her career.
“I didn’t have a backup plan. I grew up loving sports,” Gray said. “Just give me a sport and I’m in you know. My whole family is that way.”
Gray’s entire family is brewed with Bearkat blood. Both her son and her daughter are SHSU alums. Her son played baseball for the Bearkats, and was the starting pitcher when the Kats baseball team opened the new stadium. Her daughter, like her preferred recruits, was a multi-sport student athlete. She was a member of the volleyball team in the fall, and played softball in the spring. Gray had the opportunity to coach her daughter when they won the Southland Conference championship two years ago.
Her daughter, Tayler, is now an assistant coach for the Bearkats volleyball team.
Gray has established three decades worth of memories at SHSU. They vary from coaching to family appreciation.
“There’s a couple, I’d have to say beating Florida State at Florida to make it to the national championship was a big one. That was my first year coaching,” Gray said. “The other one is when I see a player get Most Valuable Player at a tournament, or Player of the Year, that’s overwhelming. Also, coaching my daughter and winning a championship with her as my setter, and hoisting the trophy with her was a big moment. Watching my son open the new stadium on the mound, that was a big moment. It’s more through watching other people achieve if that makes any sense.”
Gray’s favorite moments don’t involve her, all of the favorite moments were when somebody else was getting the glory. Whether it was her players, or her kids, somebody else was getting the glory, or the recognition, or the accolades. That unselfishness as a coach makes a player want to play for her. The coach is truly trying to make the player successful, and not just striving for her own recognition or accolades.
Every starter form last year’s volleyball team returned to play another season, and Gray thinks that the squad can go a long way.
“This team has great potential,” Gray said. “They do not get too down, but they do not get too hyped up either. They are very even keel, and that’s my favorite thing about this group.”
With every starter from last year’s team returning Gray is very fond of this year’s team and has very high expectations. Coach Gray hopes to capture another conference championship with this group, which would be the fifth conference title of her career.
Gray and the Bearkat volleyball team will look to extend their winning streak to three games as they travel to San Antonio, TX on Thursday to take on the Incarnate Word Cardinals. First serve is set for 7 p.m.