Courtesy of KSU Athletics
New Kent State volleyball coach Haley Eckerman said she wants to push her new team of athletes to be the best competitors and people they can be.
“Sometimes you get coaches who are just about wins,” Eckerman said in a telephone interview. “But [I want to] help guide them to become great athletes and to be great in life and succeed in life. ”
Eckerman, a four-time All-American as an outside hitter at the University of Texas, had been an assistant coach at Texas Christian University last season. Kent State announced her hiring earlier this week.
“I’m just so thankful to be here,” Eckerman said. “This is a university that really cares about their kids.”
Eckerman was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2011, then was player of the year for her next three seasons. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in applied learning and development, Eckerman played professionally overseas for four seasons.
Eckerman said she was drawn to Kent State for the opportunity to help students beyond their athletic goals.
“I wanted to be at a place that I felt followed the standards and the life goals that I have — caring about an athlete outside the court and what they’re doing after [college],” Eckerman said. “I was fortunate to go overseas and play, but not everybody will be, and I feel like a lot of kids aren’t prepared for not being an athlete when their time is up.”
Eckerman replaces Don Gromala, who coached the team for 10 seasons and compiled a 126-161 record.
Dan Griffin, Kent State’s director of athletic communication, wouldn’t comment on Gromala’s departure. But the Record-Courier this week quoted director of athletics Randale Richmond as saying, “We decided to move in another direction with our leadership.”
Gromala was in the last season of a five-year contract. His team went 12-18 and finished third in the Mid-American Conference East last fall.
Eckerman began coaching in 2018 at Waterloo West High School in her hometown in Iowa. A year later, she became assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Lamar University, and in 2020 became an assistant coach at Tarleton State, where she helped the team transition from Division II to Division I.
In a press release, Richmond said Eckerman brings “a great balance of both coaching and on court success” to Kent State.
“Our student-athletes will have a great opportunity to learn what is required to compete for championships,” Richmond said. “She gives us the opportunity to re-imagine our volleyball program.”
Richmond also said he was impressed with Eckerman’s strong diversity background. She co-founded Think Outside the Box, a non-profit organization that advises programs, coaches and players on diversity issues in volleyball.
Eckerman also co-founded Team Dream, the first all African-American volleyball team to compete in and win the USA Open Nationals. She said Team Dream has been the proudest accomplishment of her career thus far.
“Not only were we [a team of] volleyball players that played at all different levels, but we had girls with their doctorates and girls with their masters playing on one team and girls that looked like the girls that were growing up and watching us,” Eckerman said. “We had this range of people that kids could look up to.”
Aside from success in the gym, Eckerman said she looks forward to connecting with the Kent community, on and off the court, something she never fully experienced at her other positions.
“At TCU, like in other big cities, it’s hard to fully see the impact that the team has or even for the team to feel the support because it’s such a big city,” Eckerman said. “With this being a college town, that’s going to be huge for us.”
Eckerman said she wants fans to show up for volleyball games as much as they do for other sports, and she wants her team to connect with the community, “not just on the court, but by getting involved in community service and being a part of different things the community has to offer.”
Isabella Schreck is a reporter. Contact her at [email protected].