Former star volleyball player rejoins program as coach

Webster University volleyball assistant coach Abby Williams
Webster University assistant volleyball coach Abby Williams (right) gives freshman setter Allie O’Toole some tips during the Gorloks’ 3-1 win over Principia College on Sept. 13 at Grant Gymnasium. PHOTO BY GALE WHITEHEAD

Abby Williams returns as an assistant coach to try to lead the Gorloks back to the SLIAC championhip

After winning the conference tournament for the fourth straight year in 2009, the Webster University volleyball team lost to eventual national champion Washington University in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament. The loss marked the end of the illustrious four-year career of Abby Williams.

Williams has a die-hard passion for Webster volleyball. She said the four years she played for Webster are among the best of her life. It’s only fitting she lasted just a year outside of the program before rejoining as an assistant coach this year on Merry Graf’s staff.

“It was a really great program,” Williams said. “It was a perfect fit for me. The staff is unbelievable, and that’s why I wanted to be a part of it.”

Williams had begun a new career in January and didn’t know if her schedule would be flexible enough.

“I ran it by my boss after I got the job to see if it would even be a possibility,” Williams said. “If I was going to do it, I wanted to be 100 percent committed and be here all the time. I’m very fortunate the company that I work for allows me to adjust my schedule so I am here every day at practice and travel with the team. It’s been awesome.”

Williams has been a welcome addition to Graf’s coaching personnel. Graf coached Williams for a season of club volleyball and then for four years at Webster, so she knew what Williams had to offer.

“I think she’s great for the team,” Graf said. “It’s always wonderful when you have young players that want to stick around and continue to be a part of the program after they graduate.”

Williams joins a coaching staff with two other assistant coaches who also played for Graf — Ashley Scanio and Megan Floarke — both 2009 graduates.

“I’m fortunate enough to have three assistants who all played for me,” Graf said. “It’s really important because they know my personality, they know my drills and they know the pace of the drills. It just makes it much smoother. There really isn’t a down transition time. It’s all Webster volleyball.”

Webster has many freshmen on its 2011 roster. Williams serves as a mentor to them because she can relate, remembering how nervous she was when she was a freshman. Williams knows it takes a lot of patience in order to succeed, and they’re bound to make mistakes.

“We know they’re so talented, and there’s a reason they’re out there,” Williams said. “We also know they’re going to continue to improve. It’s so exciting to think about them for the next four years together.”

One of the starting freshmen, setter Allie O’Toole, knows she can rely on Williams for whatever problem she may have.

“She’s very much a big help,” O’Toole said. “Whenever I have a problem, she corrects it. If I ever make a bad set, she tells me how to fix it. If I get down about a play, she cheers me up and reassures that I’ll have the next one. I know if I have a question I can always ask her, and she’ll help me out.”

Because Williams was a setter for Webster, she expects a lot from O’Toole and the team’s other setters. Every player on the team is a part of her responsibility, but she knows how important a setter is to the team’s success.

“I know what they go through on the court and what their challenges are,” Williams said. “I expect more of the setters because the setter is the quarterback of the team. A setter can make or break the team; I definitely put extra effort into them.”

Williams’ success at Webster is no secret to the team. She helped Webster win a conference championship and reach the NCAA tournament all four years she played, from 2006 to 2009. She finished her career ranked third and fourth all time at Webster in service aces (141) and assists (2,125), respectively.

It may seem like a tall task, but knowing Williams’ success only makes the young team determined to duplicate it.

“It makes me strive to push myself to do better, and get as high as she did,” O’Toole said.

In order to succeed, the team will have to play with as much passion as Williams exemplifies when she screams encouragement from the sidelines.

“That’s exactly how I was as a player,” Williams said. “I expect that out of them. I expect that they love the game just as much, if not more, than me.”

Williams misses playing for Webster, but she couldn’t be happier with the role she’s now in.

“The best part about it was after the first game a couple girls came up to me and expressed their appreciation for my enthusiasm, intensity and feedback,” Williams said. “You still love what you’re doing, but when you get recognition from them that they like what you’re doing and that you’re helping them it makes a big difference.

“I enjoy coming here every single day. I love being back in the gym. I will do anything short of putting on a jersey to make sure this team wins a conference championship.”

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