This year, volleyball coach Merry Graf will have been at Webster for 20 seasons. While she has coached 428 collegiate wins, she said one of her favorite parts of coaching is helping her players develop as people.
Volleyball coach Merry Graf has coached 428 collegiate wins, eight St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) tournament-winning teams, and won SLIAC Coach of the Year four times during her tenure at Webster. She said coaching college volleyball taught her to focus on more than the wins and losses.
This season is Graf’s 20th as Webster’s head women’s volleyball coach. She described herself as very competitive but said success does not start and end with the scoreboard.
“Our learning and experience does not always equate to the win-loss on the court,” Graf said.
Graf is one of five head coaches at Webster who holds a coaching tenure of at least 15 years. The small-town feel and the lasting relationships are what kept her at Webster, she said.
She has used the tight-knit, family atmosphere to recruit student-athletes to Webster.
“It shows that Webster’s a good place for us and we’ve kind of found our home,” Graf said.
Throughout the years, Graf has seen athletics morph into a bigger presence at Webster. The athletics budget increased nearly half-a-million dollars from 2014-2018. The rest of the SLIAC budgets show similar trends for the same period.
Graf has coached more than Gorloks volleyball during the past two decades. She served as interim softball coach for the 2008 season when the team tied for first place in the SLIAC standings. She also coached men’s tennis in 2002-2003.
A graduate of Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, Graf played volleyball and softball in college. She proved to be a standout athlete by winning the university’s best blocker award for volleyball and setting the record for most hits in a softball game with five against Maryville College. The record, set in 1986, still stands today.
Volleyball player Hayley Taylor suffered an ankle injury last year that caused her to sit out the 2019 season. She had to look for other ways to help the team besides on-court contributions.
The 6-foot-1-inch senior said Graf helped guide her through the injury by giving her other ways to be a team player.
“She taught me that being a part of the team isn’t just being a good teammate on the court, but off the court as well,” Taylor said.
Most of the interaction between players and coaches happens outside of games. This time allows Graf to come up with creative ways to help her players develop as people, which she said is one of the best parts about coaching at the collegiate level.
As COVID-19 persists, the team has only been able to do practice drills. Team bonding outside of practice also took a hit due to social-distancing guidelines. Graf used a simple task of writing a thank you letter to someone to bring the team closer together.
The letter became an annual tradition before this season. Even though times are different, Graf said it’s important to find gratitude in the little things.
Going forward, Graf said winning at the regional level is the biggest thing she wants to accomplish as a coach. The last time the team made it past the SLIAC tournament was 2014. The Gorloks fell to Emory University 0-3 in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.