Emily Taylor knows she has a lot of work to do.
She understands that the Waynesburg University women’s volleyball program hasn’t been successful in a long time.
In fact, she’s had a front row seat to it on several occasions over the past three years when she was an assistant at Washington & Jefferson. In that span, the Presidents went 5-1 against the Yellow Jackets, with each win coming in straight sets.
Once upon a time, the Jackets were the queens of the PAC. That was 15 years ago. Since then, not much has gone right.
The next 12 years of the Stephanie Benkowski era brought stability, but not winning. Waynesburg never had another winning season under Benkowski, and the last two years were especially painful, as the Jackets won two matches and lost 52 more.
The Hayley Kirby era started in 2018, and it didn’t bring triumph or assurance. Kirby went 9-46 in her two years in charge before departing in late 2019.
Now, it’s Taylor’s turn. This is her first head coaching job in volleyball, and she’s eager for a new beginning, both for herself and the program.
“I was on campus for my interview, [and] I felt right at home,” Taylor said. “I felt that Waynesburg is a great place to be, and a place where I’m going to be supported. So I’m excited to build a culture centered around that community.”
As a player, Taylor was a captain on the Penn State Greater Allegheny team in her junior and senior seasons. After graduation in 2017, she joined Lauren London-Law’s staff at W&J, where she helped the Presidents to a 14-2 PAC record in her second season.
Taylor describes her coaching style as “laid back.”
“I don’t like to motivate my kids by telling them they suck at volleyball,” she said. “I like to use volleyball as a teaching opportunity for all aspects [of life]. I think being a member of my volleyball program should give my athletes some skills that they might not always get in the classroom. That’s problem solving, communication, leadership, things that come with being a part of a team.”
For soon-to-be seniors like Hannah Colvin, this will mark the third coaching change in four years. Although she doesn’t know her new coach well yet, Colvin is seeing signs that Taylor might be the one who changes Waynesburg’s fortunes.
“The first time I met her, she had a book made, and it had example practices, example drills,” Colvin said. “It had her values as a coach, what she expects from us. It made me feel immediately very confident in her, that she was ready to be a head coach.”
Despite Waynesburg’s history over the past half-decade, Taylor isn’t inheriting bare cupboard.
The Jackets only graduated one senior from last year’s squad, and showed they had a pulse at times during a mainly disappointing 4-23 campaign in 2019, perhaps most notably with a win over W&J in the season finale.
For Taylor, players on the current roster— such as Colvin, who was an All-PAC honorable mention last fall— have the physical tools necessary to compete in the conference. Taylor will use the rest of spring, which begins after spring break and will span five weeks of practice, to assess what is currently there.
“We have every position that we need, I think talent wise,” Taylor said. “I definitely remember certain people from playing [against Waynesburg], but I don’t know as a whole directly how they work together on the court. So I’m excited to have our spring season to get to know that, but I think athletically and body wise, position wise, we have everything we need to be successful already.”
Taylor is also confident in the leadership abilities of soon to be seniors such as Colvin, Mya Brooks and Alexis Phillips, but feels that for them to be leaders, they must receive guidance from the person in charge.
“I think they have all the talent that they need, but they haven’t had a really good leader to kind of get them going,” she said. “From what I remember, the seniors we have coming back have that leadership potential, they just kind of need somebody to guide them, and that’s what I’m coming in trying to do.”
Colvin knows things might not change before she graduates, but feels that, when the time comes for the Jackets to be winners again, Taylor will be the one overseeing it.
“I know that she’s a good person to be our coach no matter what our results are this season,” Colvin said. “Because we do need to build the program up, and it doesn’t just happen in one year. I think that she is going to help give us the tools we need for it to be a good season, and for us to work better as a team and just get better.”
Eventually, Taylor’s goal is to make Waynesburg the program she wants it to be.
“I want it to be known as a program that its athletes win and lose with humility and integrity,” she said. “We treat everyone with respect, our opponents, our referees, our fans, our facility workers. I want it to be a program known for more than just its wins and losses… I think if you can do all of those things, and have a winning culture even when you’re not winning, then the winning will follow. It might take a number of years, but it will come.”