Havre Daily News sports editor
Montana State University-Northern athletic director Dave Gantt has a new head volleyball coach. And as successful as the Skylight program has been over the last decade, the new Skylights head coach brings an extremely impressive resume to MSU-N.
On Wednesday afternoon, Gantt announced the hiring of University of Calgary men's volleyball coach Greg Ryan, who will take over the program after Lisa Handley resigned in late March. Handley was at the helm of the Skylight program for the last seven seasons, and she guided them to back-to-back third-place finishes at the Frontier Conference tournament in 2004 and 2005.
Ryan has been the head coach at Calgary since 1986 and he brings a tremendous amount of success with him from the men's game. During his tenure he coached the Dinos to Canadian Intervarsity Sports national championships in 1989 and 1993, the CIS silver medal in 1992 and the CIS bronze medal in 1988 and 2001.
“We are fabulously happy to have Greg as our new head coach,” Gantt said. “He has an amazing track record in the sport of volleyball and he has been in the business for a very long period of time.
“That experience and the system of networking he brings with him was very important to our program,” he added. “And it gives our program instant credibility with him as our coach.”
Said Ryan: “This is a very exciting time for me and a great opportunity as a head coach in this sport. Initially, what attracted me to the position was the fact that Northern is an NAIA school and I think that the NAIA has great volleyball tradition. I also knew a few of the kids that are coming down here to play and that was a big factor as well. Plus, the fact that Havre is still close to Calgary played a lot into why I felt so strongly about this job.”
Ryan, a native Calgarian played high school volleyball in Calgary before joining the Dinos. He was a starting member of the 1977 Canada West Conference Championship team that was CIS silver medalists.
Ryan began his coaching career as an assistant coach with the University of Calgary women's team and he served as interim head coach in 1984. He became the Dinos' men's head coach in 1985.
Besides his medals at the CIS national tournament, he had five other teams that reached the semifinals. In addition, Ryan's teams have won five Canada West Conference championships and he has been named the conference coach of the year on five different occasions. During his tenure in Calgary, Ryan compiled a conference record of 202 wins versus 134 losses.
All of that success on the court didn't make Ryan's decision to leave Calgary easy. But he said that several factors weighed into it in the end.
“First off, I think Lisa Handley did a great job with this program and I felt like we have a very good team coming back. There are a lot of good players here and we are already very strong in the middle. So as a coach, it is nice to come into a situation where the program is already in very good shape. It isn't like starting over from scratch.” Ryan said. “What also weighed into the decision was the fact that things were becoming increasingly difficult in Calgary. There was a time when we had a lot a lot of success. We were beating some of the best teams in the United States like UCLA and Stanford as much as they beat us. But entrance standards are so high at Calgary now that it was becoming very difficult to find male players who were qualified to play for us and qualified to meet our entrance requirements. That was becoming pretty frustrating over the last few years.”
And recruiting is just one of the things that Gantt knows that Ryan's presence will have an immediate impact on at MSU-N. Ryan has traveled through most of the Canadian provinces playing, coaching and recruiting and those connections will certainly serve him well in Havre. He has also coached the Canadian national team in international competition.
“Obviously, Greg's recruiting network is very vast and extensive,” Gantt said. “That is one of the things that made him such a great fit for us. But it is also how he recruits that makes him such a great fit for our what we want our program to be. We know he can recruit quality players, but he will also recruit the type of student-athlete we want in our program. He is a family-oriented guy and that is the way he approaches coaching, so we know he will not only bring in quality athletes to MSU-N, but quality young people as well.”
Said Ryan: “I think that my recruiting connections will certainly help us get to where we want to be, and that is to win an NAIA national championship. But I want to build a solid base here in Havre too. I am hoping to get a club system going here to further develop our local players, and that will take some time, but it is definitely something we are going to get up and running. We want Havre and local kids to be a part of our program and our success.”
Of course, making a transition from one coaching job to another is never easy. But Ryan is about to embark on a change from men's volleyball to women's volleyball where there several differences. But he sees it as a challenge that is nothing but positive.
“There might be some changes in strategy on the court and things like that,” Ryan said. “But I am excited about the change. I coached my daughter's club team the last few years in Calgary so and I really enjoyed it. So I am looking forward to the change.”
And the transition to the Skylight program and the NAIA ranks shouldn't be much different either. Ryan said that he has an immense respect for the type of volleyball that is played at the NAIA level and in the Frontier Conference. And Gantt is just happy to have him leading the Skylights into the 2006 season.
“Again, we are extremely happy to have found Greg and to have him as our head coach,” Gantt said. “Because of what we wanted for this program we went out and recruited for a new head coach pretty aggressively. The search really came down to two guys who separated themselves from the rest of the candidates. One was Greg and the other was Jerry Wagner, who was just named the new head coach at the University of Montana. And we definitely feel like we have not only the right man for the job, but a quality person who's impact on our volleyball program and our athletic department won't be truly known for a long time.”
The Skylights return a host of talented players from last year's third-place team, including middles Jeanna McPherson and Tera O'Haire. With a solid nucleus already in place and a plethora of talented recruits already signed, Ryan feels that the the sky is the limit for his program in 2006 and beyond.
“We are going to sign a few more kids right away,” Ryan said. ‘We need a setter to go along with all of the strength we have in the middle and on the outside too. But there isn't any heavy lifting to be done. We have work to do, but the pieces are in place. There is a lot of talent here so I am just really excited about getting the season started. And I am looking forward to this great opportunity.”