Blair Brown Lipsitz named UB Bulls new head volleyball coach

Lipsitz to replace recently departed head coach Reed Sunahara

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Blair Brown Lipsitz is no stranger to winning volleyball games.

Lipsitz, a former standout player at Penn State from 2007-10, helped her team to four consecutive national championships and was named an All-American twice in her career. Now, she expects to view volleyball in a different light – from the sidelines for the first time ever as a head coach.

Lipsitz was named new head coach of the volleyball team Tuesday night. The two-time All-American and four-time national champion will replace Reed Sunahara, who left the team on March 2 to assume the same position at West Virginia. Lipsitz has no prior coaching experience, but a decorated record as a college player.

Lipsitz may not bring a national title to Buffalo after a 6-10 conference record last year, but she is excited to begin the “rebuilding” process of the team.

“I think you bring a lot of the same ideas from Penn State to Buffalo,” Lipsitz said. “It all goes across the board. It doesn’t matter if it’s the No. 1 team in the country or the No. 1 team in the MAC. Every coach is trying to do the same thing, and that’s inspire their players to play the best that they can.”

Lipsitz represents Athletics “philosophy developing champions in the classroom and on the court,” Athletic Director Danny White said in a release.

“She grew up and played in a championship culture and winning is all she knows. We are confident that Blair can bring this culture to our volleyball program and lead us to the top of the Mid-American Conference,” White said.

Lipsitz was White’s ninth hire since he took the job in 2012. All nine positions were filled with coaches that either experienced success in college or success at the college level. Four of the hires have won a national championship in their respective sports either as a player or a coach.

Lipsitz was already affiliated with the program after her stint as a volunteer assistant coach. Although she was not officially a coach, she was given the opportunity to meet some of the players and understand how they play.

Lipsitz said she wasn’t expecting to take over as head coach, but now that she is, she’s happy she was able to begin grooming relationships and learn from Sunahara over the summer. She plans on integrating her techniques from Penn State with the Sunahara’s methods.

“It’s good to have some stability with things they are already comfortable with,” Lipsitz said. “They’re already comfortable with passing technique. There are some things you don’t need to change because it’s working. I’d like to just build on it.”

Lipsitz led the Nittany Lions to four consecutive national championships while a college student. She was named First-Team All-American in 2009-10 and was named Second-Team All-American in 2008.

In 2010, Lipsitz was named the Big 10 Player of the Year and won the Honda Sports Award, which is awarded to the best player in each Division-I sport.

After college, Lipsitz played professionally for three years from 2011-13 in Italy, Puerto Rico and France before returning to the United States to continue work with the U.S. Elite Volleyball Camp.

Lipsitz co-founded the camp with her husband, Buffalo-native and three-time All-American, Max Lipsitz in 2011. The camp expanded to over 340 campers as of 2013 and travels to various areas of the Northeast United States.

“I want to thank Danny White and everybody at UB for this tremendous opportunity,” Lipsitz said in a press release. “I am honored to be part of the women’s volleyball team and the entire athletic department and I am looking forward to bringing this program to the next level.”

On Thursday morning, the team practiced for the first time under Lipsitz since she was named the head coach. Many players, including junior outside hitter Megan Lipski, were optimistic about the hiring and play style of Lipsitz.

“Blair brings something different to the gym,” Lipski said. “I think everyone responded really well to it. We worked hard and the intensity is great … She came from a winning program so she’s trying to integrate some of that into our practices. Slowly but surely.”

One of the new drills she implemented was a 6 vs. 3 drill. Six players were playing against three and the objective was for the team with three players to accumulate a certain amount of points before they were rotated.

Junior middle blocker Amber Hatchett was also excited about the energy and optimism around the gym.

“I was really excited when she was named our coach,” Hatchett said. “She’s been around our practices a lot. She knows me and I know her. We’ve been playing together for a little bit. I wasn’t nervous at all. I was confident.”

This isn’t the first time Lipsitz will be working with the Bulls. Last summer, Lipsitz worked as a volunteer assistant on the team under Sunahara. She also was an analyst for ESPN3 and covered Bulls games last season.

Lipsitz arrived roughly five weeks after Sunahara departed. In between the coaching changes, Sunahara’s assistant coaches ran spring practice until the new head coach took over the program.

This is the first head coaching position for Lipsitz. The former Penn State standout won her most recent national championship five years ago and now will be taking over a program that accumulated a 17-15 record and 6-10 in conference competition while losing one of the teams’ best players in Tahleia Bishop.

Sunahara would not disclose why Bishop did not play in several matches last season, including the Bulls’ MAC Tournament loss. Bishop is no longer on the roster.

Lipsitz is excited for the challenge. One of the main reasons she took the job was to be part of the rebuilding process for the program.

“I’m excited,” Lipsitz said. “I think it’s a great time in UB Athletics to be getting unto coaching. Very exciting things are happening at this point. I’m happy to be here building in the very beginning stages.”

The All-American won her last national title as recent as five years ago. Penn State was, and still is, considered a volleyball powerhouse in college athletics. Lipsitz understands the difference between Buffalo and Penn State, but she said her experience in State College will only help the experience with the Bulls.

Lipsitz has not named any assistant coaches yet and will “be determined” in the near future.

Jordan Grossman is a senior sports editor and can be contacted at jordan.grossman@ubspectrum.com