Buzzer Beater: the hiring of new head volleyball coach Blair Brown Lipsitz
On Tuesday night, UB Athletics announced the signing of Blair Brown Lipsitz as the new head coach of the volleyball team - succeeding recently departed head coach Reed Sunahara.
The move to find a new coach was evident once Sunahara left, but Athletic Director Danny White has kept a constant trend of his hires in the past two years – former college athletes that excelled in their respective sports.
Brown Lipsitz is no exception. The head coach was a four-time national champion at Penn State, where she also claimed All-American honors twice in her career. She brings youth and a plethora of knowledge from State College, but will also be a learning experience for her as Buffalo is her first head-coaching job. Will her inexperience as a coach be noticed, or will she be able to transition from a star on the court to a star on the sidelines?
Jordan Grossman, Senior Sports Editor
Even though the team has gone through one spring practice so far under Brown Lipsitz, it seemed there was more optimism than there ever was during the Reed Sunahara era.
I don’t know the dynamic between the team and Sunahara, but it looks like the team is optimistic to begin its run with the former All-American. And for good reason, too. Brown Lipsitz comes in with an impressive resume from Penn State and said she plans on using techniques from both the Buffalo and Penn State programs to make the transition between coaches easier.
It’s hard to expect to predict the success of the team before the season begins, especially when the roster is not solidified and not all of the players have played in a Bulls uniform. There is a wealth of inexperience on the team, which might be the team’s Achilles heel for what should be a groundbreaking year for the program.
Brown Lipsitz brings so much talent and skills, but what concerns me is her experience. Not all great players become great coaches. Robin Ventura of the Chicago White Sox finished with a subpar record in his first season. Derek Fisher, who is in the middle of his first season with the New York Knicks, has underperformed as a head coach as well.
It’s easier said than done to transition from a player to a coach. As a player, it’s all based on talent surrounding the game plan that the coach draws up. In this situation, Brown Lipsitz is now the ones calling the plays. What may have worked for her in Penn State may not work in Buffalo.
But it’s still exciting times in Buffalo. Brown Lipsitz even said herself it is a great time in UB Athletics because of the initiative to make the school a big-time brand. Brown Lipsitz enters the program with four expected seniors and everyone else with at least two years of eligibility.
There is a lot of potential for the team in the future, but it’s so difficult to determine the team’s success next season. This is their third coach in as many seasons. Consistency in the program lies as a downfall. The team could be good, but it is so hard to determine how well they play together with so many different voices at the helm of the team.
Brown Lipsitz could be the answer, but not in her first year of coaching. There are too many variables that point to a down season next year. But after next year will be different. With a coach in her second year and a lot of upperclassmen leadership, the volleyball team could be poised as one of the best in the Mid-American Conference.
The program needs time. And when it’s time, Buffalo volleyball could be a dangerous variable in the MAC.
Quentin Haynes, Sports Editor
Blair Brown Lipsitz’s hire is a great one for Buffalo.
The move sets precedence to the position. This is the second time in consecutive seasons that Danny White has hired a former college volleyball star from a top program to take over the position. Unlike Sunahara, Brown Lipsitz doesn’t have any experience as a head coach, but has experience as an assistant and she even served as a summer assistant under Sunahara last season.
Brown Lipsitz also has the ability to connect and grow with the players. She’s a younger volleyball coach at just 28 years old and has been on some of the biggest stages women’s volleyball has to offer. Similar to Sunahara, that experience comes with a level of respect but unlike Sunahara, Brown Lipsitz can connect more with her team, thanks to her gentle and likable personality.
For starters, I’m curious to see how this helps Buffalo in recruiting. They essentially didn’t lose ground in that department as Brown Lipsitz’s resume mirrors Sunahara’s. Being able to sell yourself as one of the greatest women’s volleyball players in recent memory and to sell a program that can give players playing time right away like Buffalo should only result in success on the recruiting trail.
I’m also fascinated with the roster construction at the moment. Currently, the Bulls have four seniors in outside hitter Megan Lipski, setter Marrisa Prinzbach and middle blockers Amber Hachett and Akelia Lain. After those four, everyone else has at least two more seasons of eligibility, but more importantly, some of them received valuable playing time as freshman.
Sophomores Niki Bozinoski and Tessa Ooyama both finished in the top five in total sets played and Junior Megan Lin was third. Sophomores Cassie Shado and Skyler Day finished with 137 and 100 kills respectively. Four of those five players will have three seasons, including this season, of eligibility left. Lin has two more seasons.
Having that experience returning for Brown Lipsitz is great for her first season as head coach. The seniors will be able to start and provide leadership to the roster and the underclassman provide a talent group for Brown Lipsitz to lean on as well as build around while recruiting.
There are factors to worry about with this hire: Brown Lipsitz is entering her first season as a head coach and even with assistants to help her, that’s still a tough leap to make in your first season. Another is from Buffalo’s angle. This is the third coach hired in as many seasons. I would be remised if I didn’t mention that. If Brown Lipsitz has a good first year, she could draw the eye of competitors, looking to grab the “next big thing” to coach their school.
Overall, I think the Bulls made a great choice to run their program. Unfortunately, I’m not expecting much in the 2015 season, but 2016 and 2017 could set up to be great seasons. I think this will be a great season for Brown Lipsitz to figure out what she likes and dislikes as a coach, who she has as key members of the program moving forward and just what she needs in order to turn this program around.