Orangeburg Prep Athletic Director Jan Stoudenmire spent a good portion of the summer interviewing possible candidates to head the varsity and junior varsity Lady Indians volleyball teams in 2018.
The 2017 campaign was a solid season (11-15 varsity record, state tournament play) for the program, but after the school year head coach Michael Nelson returned to Holly Hill Academy to become athletic director and coach several sports.
Nelson didn't leave the cupboard bare. The fact that nine rising seniors return for this season, coupled with a solid group of junior varsity players improving each year, the program is in good shape. And as of this week, it also has two coaches who have collegiate volleyball experience from both the court and sideline at Claflin University.
Stoudenmire announced on Tuesday that former Lady Panthers player Danielle Robinson (2012-2015 career) is the new Lady Indians head varsity volleyball coach. She also announced that Vernell Capers, Robinson's former coach at Claflin during a 20-year stint leading from the Lady Panthers sideline, has taken on the coaching of the Lady Indians JV team.
"We got interview after interview, and I bet I interviewed 20 different people for these volleyball positions," Stoudenmire said. "These girls are important to me and just like we tried to hire the best football coach and the best basketball coach, I wanted to try to hire the best volleyball coach that I could find.
"Both of these coaches stood out, each in their own individual ways. I tried to put them in positions that will be best for our program. Dani really interacted well with the girls when she first came to meet with them. She has been a varsity assistant and JV head coach at other schools (Heathwood Hall and Blythewood High) and she really wanted the opportunity to be a varsity head coach. Vernell has the college volleyball background, and I believe she can work with high school girls and teach them all the fundamentals they need to know. Michael left a really good foundation for this program."
Robinson is excited about her first varsity head coaching job away from club volleyball.
"Volleyball is my heart," she said. "I've been playing and around it ever since I was little.
"So, being able to get back into the game (with coaching) has been a really good thing for me. I've loved working with these girls, so far. And how many former players can say they are coaching with their coach from college? This should be a lot of fun for all of us. Some might just look at the nine seniors, but once they are gone we will need to have groomed the JV girls to step up and take their roles on varsity. I see great things for these girls in the future. They are coachable and are willing to put in the work to get better."
Rising senior hitter Amber White believes the new coaches are just what the Lady Indians needed at this point in the program.
"It's nice knowing we have coaches who love the game like we do and who have experience on the college level," White said. "We practiced on our own all summer to stay around the game and get in the gym.
"Now it's all about preparing for the season. Wilson Hall, we need to beat them finally, at least once before us seniors graduate. Trinity-Byrnes is now in our region, so that's another big challenge for us. I know all of us seniors are ready to do what we need to this season. And the new coaches should provide us with that added experience to step it up."
A total of 27 players have been at early preseason workouts in recent days, comprising the varsity and junior varsity teams. Unlike the OP football team, which has been reclassified by the South Carolina Independent School Association as a Class 2A team in 2018, the volleyball program and all other sports at the school will continue to compete against the largest and best programs SCISA Class 3A has to offer.
"Any time you can hire a coach who has been coaching in college for as long as she (Capers) has and you add in a former college player (Robinson) who has a good mindset on Xs and Os in volleyball, we've done a great job hiring these two ladies to run our program," Stoudenmire said. "And it only helps that they both know firsthand what college programs look for in high school players."
Capers, who stepped away from college coaching in 2016, helped with the Lake Marion High School program last season.
"I've been back in the game for a year, so I don't feel like I'm rusty at all," Capers said. "Coaching in the high school ranks, and especially in SCISA, is still something that will be new to me after so long in the college game.
"But coaching is coaching and I just need to know the ground rules and go on that and what information Coach Stoudenmire has shared with me.
"A lot of teaching will go on at this level," Capers said. "Here we are trying to build a program.
"So, it's not only about learning and practicing the skills, but it's about conditioning and endurance. Coach Robinson was a great player for us and she has always been a student of the game. I think we're going to tag team this thing together and the results are going to shock some people straight out of the gate. Our early goals are to be competitive and to win our region."
The Lady Indians open the season on Monday, Aug. 20, at home against Clarendon Hall. JV games will start at 5 p.m., with varsity games at 6 p.m. OP will then have three consecutive road games at Lake Marion, Patrick Henry and Clarendon Hall.