Dec. 6, 2009

By Judd Spicer
Special to

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- An NCAA volleyball weighs about 9.5 ounces. The net in the women's game stands at just under 7½ feet. The court dimensions measure 59 feet by 29½ feet.

These are the tangibles for all teams. It's what is directed amid, above and about these variables that determine the difference between victory and lament.  

With Concordia's 3-0 victory over West Texas A&M in Saturday's NCAA Division II women's volleyball championship, Golden Bears coach Brady Starkey has now directed three consecutive champions. Since the NCAA began sponsoring the sport in 1981, the feat had never been accomplished in Divisions I or II. Along with the hardware, Starkey sports the best winning percentage across all levels of NCAA volleyball, having led Concordia to a 240-20 record (.920) in his seven years.

But perhaps the most intriguing of the slew of numbers is that his Concordia roster has no women listed at 6 feet or taller. All other teams in the Elite Eight rostered at least three women of 6 feet. The runner-up A&M team had a championship-topping seven women of that height.

"I think you look closer at some rosters and the heights are always inflated," Starkey said. "I'm one of the people that doesn't do that."

Then he added with his trademark wry smile: "We do bare-feet measurements. Our girls are always like, `I'm 6 feet,' and I tell then, `No you're not.'"

Of his approach to directing Concordia's prescription for success, Starkey said:

"It's all about getting talented kids that trust in what we're doing and can still play high, even if they're 5-10. We look for athletes. There are kids out there that are tall, but they don't play very high. They don't touch as high as some of our 5-10 girls.

"I think most people look for athletes. But I also believe that people do get a little too caught up in height. Sometimes those kids that are bigger are also slower. They have more difficulty timing balls. For us, we run a tempo where you have to be able to jump and time a ball. If you have a small window to hit because you can't jump very high, it's not going to work out very well for you in our system. We need kids that have a little hang time so they have some time for error with a faster-tempo offense."

Elaborating on Concordia's reliance on quickness against generally taller opponents, Starkey added:

"In volleyball, kids that play big don't always play high. It's one of those things where they still pull the ball down a lot, things like that. We play teams that are huge. They have big, tall, D-I-caliber kids. It's common that a lot of those players pull the ball down. And if they don't, they hit the ball over us and hopefully we dig it. We've always tried not worrying how big the other team is but instead trying to get in their angles and playing defense against them."

Employing the alacrity of his three-time national champions, Starkey is quick to deflect his team's style as an invention of his own talents.

"I don't think there's one coach that can go out and say they did it all their way," Starkey said. "Everything I've learned basically comes from somebody else that has told me how to do something. I either disregard it or I think it's sweet and I go with it. It's one of those things where you pick out somebody that's done something better than you, then take it and don't feel like you have too big of an ego where you have to make everything your own. There are people long before us that have been doing this right. If we actually watch what they've done, we can learn from that."

Considering Starkey's run of titles and influence on his sport, it seems assured that similar thoughts will be echoed about him someday.