New volleyball coach hopes to end MAC Tournament drought, change program for long term
Mike Gawlik has climbed Temple Mountain and cage-dived with great white sharks in South Africa. He has been to Greece and Egypt. A trip to Thailand on April 29 marked his fifth continent visited.
Gawlik said he likes to step outside his comfort zone and go places he's never gone — something he hopes to do with the Central Michigan University volleyball team.
After being hired as head coach on Jan. 28, Gawlik is settling into his new role after spending 11 years as an assistant coach at Michigan State.
The volleyball team has had spring competition at home against Ferris State, Oakland, Michigan and Michigan State. He said he felt his team made strides and "moved the rock in the right direction."
“I’m not a win-at-all-cost type of person, but we’re going to push and we’re going to play hard," Gawlik said. "We’re going to push these young women outside of their comfort zone and force them to grow and go beyond where they think they can go.”
Gawlik said he is raising expectations for the volleyball program. The Chippewas have missed the Mid-American Conference Tournament for three consecutive seasons. Former Head Coach Erik Olson resigned in December after being placed on paid leave in October for "unprofessional behavior toward the athletes."
“Our team has good heads on their shoulders, they work hard, but I think we’re asking a little bit more from them," Gawlik said. "We’re trying to chase teams down in the MAC and one of the statements we use is, 'In order to go where we’ve never gone, we’ve got to be willing to do what we’ve never done.'”
The Chippewas' 2016 schedule is road-heavy, with matchups against Southern Illinois and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis in Indianapolis, Michigan State and Florida in East Lansing, and Valparaiso and Central Florida in Orlando. Florida advanced to the Elite Eight in last season's NCAA Tournament.
"To get to the top of the MAC, we’ve got to play good teams," Gawlik said. "To get to the NCAA Tournament, we’ve got to play good teams. To win in the NCAA Tournament, you definitely have to play good teams. Those are all things we strive for.”
The 33-year-old also said CMU will not host its annual Chippewa Challenge this season, saying it was difficult to draw teams to play due to a head coach not being in place.
Recruiting has been a focal point for Gawlik. He is targeting the 2018 class, as the 2016 and 2017 recruiting classes were recruited by Olson.
“I think we’re hunting in the right forest," Gawlik said. "I think we’ve got some really top-notch kids on campus.They are people who some conference opponents are (recruiting), some major conferences are (recruiting). I think we’re right in the hunt for some of these kids.”
Gawlik said he looks for players that are good teammates, good leaders, are coachable and willing to work hard.
“Those are the kids we need to change the standard and change the fate of Central Michigan volleyball (for the) long term — and not just for a season or two at a time," Gawlik said. "We’re not coming here to win a season — we’re coming here to build a program.”
Soon-to-be sophomore setter Kelli Combs is among those who have stood out to Gawlik thus far. He said she sets a high standard every day in practice. Fellow sophomore, outside hitter Lexi Duello is working hard, even though she is battling an injury, Gawlik said.
Junior outside hitters Jordan Bueter and Taylor Robertson can be a one-two punch for CMU next season and junior middle blocker Paige Carey has a "heart of a lion," even though she also suffered an injury in the spring season, Gawlik said.
“Nobody’s going to hand us the MAC Tournament," Gawlik said. "Nobody’s going to hand us an NCAA Tournament berth. We’ve got to go out and outwork people.”
The team selected Bueter and junior outside hitter Jessica Meichtry as captains in a team activity where the players described what leadership is. Gawlik said the two essentially volunteered for more work, the process of selecting captains could be re-evaluated come fall.
“We’ve identified these are the two people who can really be the voice of our team and help lead us into a season with a culture that’s going to get us in the direction we want to go," Gawlik said.
In his introductory press conference on Jan. 28, Gawlik described himself as a "volleydork." He said he dreams about volleyball, thinks about volleyball and talks about volleyball.
“It’s truly a love and passion for the sport," Gawlik said. "I know there’s a lot of other 'volleydorks' out there too and God bless them.”
Gawlik said his passion for the game and student-athletes is something the community notices. He said during recent jump tests in offseason workouts, four athletes reached their personal best and received high fives for just a half-inch improvement.
He added they will not receive another high five until they reach another half inch or another personal best.
“We’re a far better volleyball team now than we were eight weeks ago," Gawlik said. "We need to continue that upward trend for the entire year. The teams that do that are the teams that find themselves in contention at the end of November.”
Gawlik will be aided by assistant coaches Adam Rollman and Krista Rice. Rollman is the only mainstay from the previous coaching staff and is the "keystone who bridged the past and future," Gawlik said. Rice, a former Kent State player, was hired in March after spending two seasons at Toledo. Gawlik said he hopes to hire a graduate or volunteer assistant.
The Chippewas hope to bring a family-friendly environment and exciting brand of volleyball to McGuirk Arena this fall. Gawlik has already constructed clinics for the community.
“The train’s just leaving the station and you’re going to want to be on it, I promise," Gawlik said.
He said he wants to play with a "reckless abandon" and be the team everybody hates to play.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that was possible," Gawlik said. "I hope to do everything that’s within my power to push us in the right direction. I told the team the ingredients are good, we’ve just got to find the right recipe.”
The Chippewas return to campus on Aug. 9 for training camp.