December 14, 2018

Graf talks about difficulties of new athletic department position

Webster University head volleyball coach Merry Graf regroups with her team after a three sets to none loss at Washington University on Friday, Aug. 30. PHOTO BY DAVID BROOME

Lunte: This is your first time in charge of Webster Athletics. Tom Hart was here for almost 25 years. What is it like to fill in his shoes to start with?

Graf: Well, it’s big shoes obviously. Like you said, Tom has been around for a long time, was very well-known, and did a great job with our athletic department. But you know being asked to be the interim athletic director was great for me. I think I’ll learn a lot from this experience, and you know I’ve already been the senior women’s administrator, as well as the assistant athletic director. So, I already had a lot of the knowledge of some of the things that were going on within the department.

Lunte: What has the transition been like for you?

Graf: It’s been busy. It came at a time when volleyball was just getting ready to gear up. So they asked me if I was okay with that and I told them ‘absolutely.’ You know, whatever it takes to get this department to continue growing strong is exactly what I want to do.

Lunte: Can you talk a little bit about how the transition took place. Did you get a call from Ted Hoef for something?

Graf: Actually, Tom is the one who called me into his office, he told me he took another opportunity, and was going to be moving on and that he talked to Paul (Carney, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs) and the other people and that they were offering the interim role to me. So, I told him of course I need a couple of days to get my head around it because I was shocked literally that Tom was leaving. I had no clue that was coming my way.

Lunte: I want to talk about the volleyball team a little bit now, because you probably have some pretty high expectations since the team won the SLIAC title last year. What are some of your goals that you have for your ladies this season?

Graf: The team sets their own goals individually and that, of course is one of the goals that they have set for themselves is to win the SLIAC and advance by winning the SLIAC tournament to the NCAA tournament.

Lunte: Can you talk a little bit about how the transition took place. Did you get a call from Ted Hoef for something?

Graf: Actually, Tom is the one who called me into his office, and we were just getting geared up for volleyball camp and he told me he took another opportunity, and was going to be moving on and that he talked to Paul (Carney) and the other people and that they were offering the interim role to me. So, I told him I of course I need a couple of days to get my head around it because I was shocked literally that Tom was leaving. (I) Had no clue that was coming my way. So after thinking about it for the weekend and talking to my husband you know it just made sense for me to accept the role.

Lunte: I want to talk about the volleyball team a little bit now because you probably have some pretty high expectations since the team won the SLIAC title last year. What are some of your goals that you have for your ladies this season?

Graf: The team sets their own goals individually and as team goals every year, and that of course is one of the goals that they have set for themselves is to win the SLIAC and advance by winning the SLIAC tournament to the NCAA tournament. Along the way, they set themselves some technical goals like certain hitting percentages, things like that. But really I think for us, it’s just about going through the season one opponent at a time, and just trying to take care on business each game day. And you know at the end of it, we hope to end up on the top of the SLIAC and win that tournament.

Lunte: Can you talk a little bit about what kind of coaching style you have for the volleyball team? Like what kind of schemes do you like running?

Graf: To me, the thing I love about coaching volleyball is the strategy. I’ve coached other sports. I’ve coached other sports here at Webster. But I just love the strategy looking at the opponent, what offense they’re running, what defense they’re running and then trying to figure out what we can do to attack that defense and be successful scoring points because that’s what it boils down to is you’ve got to score points. This is a fun team for me to work with because we have a lot of weapons. It’s not like we only have one or two good players, we have a very deep roster with a lot of talent, so it’s very exciting to work with a group like this.

Lunte: Can you talk a little bit about Morgan Tipton? She’s one of your newest recruits and to my understanding, she is a all-scholar athlete from the Post-Dispatch. And you’ve coached a lot of special volleyball players in your tenure here. Can you talk a little bit about what Morgan has currently brought to the team, and also what you’re expecting out of her?

Graf: Sure. Morgan is a great, young athlete. She is also going to compete on the softball team for us here at Webster which we’re excited about as well. She is just so athletic. She can play multiple positions which is great for us. We love that in Division III. Right now, we’re utilizing her at the JV level as a middle hitter. And, she’s been seeing a little bit of time as an outside or right side at the varsity level, but (she) may see some time in the middle as well as we go down the road here. Just one of those things where we’re kind of getting her feet wet a little bit at the varsity level, and then just continuing to work with her in practice to develop things and become more familiar with our systems.

Lunte: Can you compare her path to say how Jenny Howard went through the ranks? Is Morgan going through a similar path?

Graf: You know I really think they’re a little bit different. You know when Jenny came in right away, she was in that starting rotation. She was one of our big attackers, earning a lot of the kills and points for the team. That expectation has not been put on Morgan at this point and I think that’s probably a good thing for her. It can be a lot of pressure on a young athlete to throw them into that role and expect them to perform at high levels. So, we’re kind of in a good situation where we have a really strong upper-class, just one senior and like 11 juniors so, it’s kind of nice for Morgan because we can gradually put her out there and let her get comfortable with things, and then see what works best where she fits in best with our team.

Lunte: What’s been the hardest part about both managing athletics and volleyball at the same time?

Graf: Probably meetings. (chuckles)

Lunte: How come?

Graf: Just meaning that you know it’s one of those things where athletic directors sign a lot of paperwork as I’m finding out, and they attend a lot of meetings. So you know just the timing of it. We’re busy, we’re traveling. You know yesterday we left a 2:00 for an away match. So just kind of trying to fit in everything is probably the busiest part.

Lunte: I heard about that bus incident. What happened there?

Graf: You know, (we) got off track from the map basically and you know I just look at it as a rookie mistake on my part. I should have made sure he (the bus driver) knew exactly where we were going, and I ask, and he said he was comfortable with the directions and clearly it didn’t end up that way since it took five hours and 15 minutes to get some place that should have probably taken three and a half. But, we made it, we won. All is good.

Lunte: I guess my last question for you is: What is your vision for the athletic department this season?

Graf: You know I think overall, we always have the goal of within the athletics to win the All- Sports trophy within the SLIAC. Obviously, sending teams to the NCAA tournament is really important to us as well. You know, we’ve been fortunate enough that twice in recent years we’ve been able to send all three of the fall team sports to the NCAA tournament, and that would be awesome to repeat that as well. Actually if we can send teams every season, both the fall, spring and the winter would be awesome. Baseball of course has back to back World Series appearances, so we’d like to see that happen for them again, and you know the golf team looks very strong as well. So I think we have just a full lineup of coaches that are experienced, and can offer a lot and you know we expect all of our teams to not only make the SLIAC tournament, but win them and go on.

Lunte: Is there anything I may have left out that you might want to talk about?

Graf: We’d just love to have more students out to support athletics. We’re kind of working with campus activities trying to get that initiative back. Kind of at the forefront. We have a lot of talented athletes, they’re fun to watch. No charge to get into the games, inexpensive food and drink, where else should you be?

Lunte: Have you guys came up with any ideas with campus activities on certain stuff you might want to do?

Graf: Yeah. I know they’re already working on some things. Kristen McDowell, one of the volleyball players works for campus activities with Bill (Boxdorfer). And I know they got something planned I think for next week when we do our home matches against Greenville.

Lunte: Can you talk about that?

Graf: I don’t know the specifics, of what they have planned. Within the athletic department, we have picked certain nights that we deem ‘Pack the house’ nights. And it’s just coaches telling other coaches ‘Hey, we would like to get your athletes there.’ Cross country is actually running in-town tomorrow. They’re trying to get people there to support them. And, it’s a little challenging for us (the volleyball team) because they run at like 4:30-5:15ish and we’ll still be in practice at that time. But you know we’re trying to get athletes out to that and like I said, Monday night is Mens Soccer, Wednesday night is volleyball, and I think women’s soccer is in the beginning of October. Just tell everyone to come out, and enjoy the games.

 

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