George Ferguson Havre Daily News sports editor email@example.com
For the second time in three years, Montana State University-Northern will be looking for a new volleyball coach. On Tuesday, MSU-N announced that current head coach Greg Ryan will be leaving the program to take over as athletic director at Augustana University College in Camrose, Alberta. Ryan is originally from Alberta and coached in Calgary for 21 years before coming to MSU-N. And while he is leaving the sport of volleyball behind, he said the decision to leave Havre and MSU-N was a difficult one. "I wasn't really looking to go anywhere at all," Ryan Said. "But this opportunity came about really while we were still in Europe. And it really was a family decision. My wife's family lives about 20 miles from where we will be, and this is a great opportunity for us to be near them and a great career opportunity for me. "But this really was a tough decision," he added. "We really like Havre and the university, and everything about being here has been great. We've really enjoyed our time here and it's going to be very hard to leave. But in Canada, especially, opportunities like this don't come around very often, and I'm excited about the new position." Ryan will leave behind a team on the rise in the Frontier Conference. He took over the program two seasons ago when he was hired by former MSU-N athletic director Dave Gantt, when then head coach Lisa Handley left to move to Minnesota. After struggling with a young and inexperienced team in each of his first two seasons, including a 7-20 overall record and a 4-10 conference record last season, the Skylights were considered by many to be one of the up-and-coming teams heading into this season. That label came by way of how talented and young Northern was in 2007, and also with how the Skylights played down the stretch, wining several big matches and taking the league's top teams to the brink of defeat on several occasions. Ryan gathered strong recruits from Canada and Montana, and this spring, excitement grew as another strong recruiting class is headed to Northern, and the current Skylights made a successful journey to Europe where they played and trained against outstanding European competition. "I think everything is in place and this team will be very good this season and beyond," Ryan said. "And that makes it really hard to leave because while it was somewhat of a struggle when we first got here, I feel like all the heavy lifting is done now. I think this team has a chance to do very well this season and that's exciting, but it also makes it tough to leave." Many of the reasons the program is on solid ground as Ryan departs for a new challenge in Canada are directly due to his efforts. He has done an outstanding job in recruiting talented players both from his native Canada, as well as solid Montana-born recruits. Ryan also started Northern Montana Club Volleyball, and that program is thriving and should help to produce better high school players and more home-grown college recruits from Havre and the surrounding areas. He also says that adding a Havre tournament to Northern's schedule was a big step in the right direction for the program as far as recruiting, competitive play and the future. "Greg's done a really good job in the time he's been here," MSU-N athletic director Mark Samson said. "I really appreciate his efforts because I think with how he's done in recruiting and all the hard work he's put into the program, he's really got it turned in the right direction. Now, we just have to go forward and try to find somebody to continue doing that." And finding a new head coach will be a top priority for Samson, especially considering that the fall practice is not far off and the Skylights play their first matches on August 22 in Dickinson, N. D. "I think we will have a lot of really good people who will be interested in this job and we're going to make sure we find the best person we can to take over this program," Samson said. "But because of where we're at in the summer, we will have to speed up the process a bit. Because we are so close to the season starting, it makes it a little more of unique situation. But I'm confident we will find the right person for the job." Meanwhile, Ryan begins his new post in Canada on July 1. And while he's looking forward to the challenges of being a full-time athletic director, he admits that there will come a time when he will miss being on the sidelines for matches and he will miss MSU-N and his players especially. "I think I'll really miss it around playoff time," he said. "It's something I've been doing for the last 25 years, so this is going to be quite different for me. "But really, myself and my family are really going to miss Havre, the players and all of the great people we have met while we have been here. It's been a great place for us, and with all of the great people here at the school, and in this town, it makes leaving that much harder. But I'm also excited about a new challenge."