With or without a head coach, they’re doing just fine.
Former Penn volleyball head coach Katie Schumacher-Cawley led the team to its best finish since 2013 last season. But in February, she shocked the community when she resigned to take a position at national powerhouse Penn State, her alma mater.
Two months later, the team is still without a head coach. In this offseason limbo, assistant coach Josh Wielebnicki has stepped up to fill the gap. And in the eyes of many players, not much has changed.
“People are really working on their skills, techniques, and things that could be used regardless of who our coach is in the future," junior Grace James said. “So while Josh doesn’t have the formal title of ‘head coach’, practices have still been very productive, and everyone’s getting into the gym excited to learn and get better every day.”
“He’s great,” junior captain Taylor Cooper agreed. “Through the fall and then through the spring, he’s always been a very steady, constant presence, and we go to him if we have issues relating to volleyball or class. He has an open door policy in his office, so we all stop by and hang out every now and then.”
Since Schumacher-Cawley left the team two months ago, the squad has been without a replacement. Her departure was sudden, but a national search began immediately after her announced resignation and is still ongoing.
But rather than being “coachless”, James prefers the term “in transition”; Wielebnicki is effectively providing all the help a head coach does, just without the official designation.
Players were uncertain if the school is considering Wielebnicki for the head coaching position or not.
“We still have someone who’s coaching us in practice twice a week, sometimes three times a week, during the spring,” she said. “He doesn’t have a formal title, but he’s still there for us, so everyone’s really embracing that right now.”
Like Schumacher-Cawley, last season was also the first at Penn for Wielebnicki. He had previously been an assistant at University of Illinois-Chicago under Schumacher-Cawley for five years, making the move to Philadelphia along with her last spring. His other coaching experience is from stints at Evansville and Western Carolina, in addition to playing club volleyball at Illinois State.
The team is appreciative of all Wielebnicki is doing to make this transition period easier. As a captain, Cooper isn’t having any difficulty reaching out to him when she needs help.
“This spring, more responsibility is falling onto the new senior class, and everyone has done a really good job of stepping up and filling those roles,” she said. “Josh has been great in that process as well. If we ever have a question or need anything as a team or individuals, we can always go to him and he’s ready to help provide an answer.”
In this time of uncertainty, Wielebnicki has been there for the team when it needs it most. Even though it’s the offseason, having a stable force like him around is always useful in the tumult of life as a student-athlete.
Despite officially lacking a head coach, Penn volleyball is thriving just like usual.