It’s time to spread our wings and fly
Don’t let another day go by . . .
It’ll be just like starting over
John Lennon from “Starting Over”
For two veteran South Bay volleyball coaches with long records of excellence, it’s just like starting over.
For Mike Normand, in his first year as men’s coach at Loyola Marymount, it’s a new experience to struggle just to score points and have to look up at most of the powerful Western Intercollegiate Volleyball Assn.
For Nancy Fortner, it’s the beginning of a rebuilding job at Cal State Dominguez Hills after two seasons away from coaching, time spent recharging her batteries after a similar revitalization--at Loyola.
Normand, a 40-year-old former Green Beret who has known nothing but success and sounds like he’s not prepared to accept less, took over a program that has rarely had more than passing acquaintance with winning and has been a perennial tail-ender since formation of the WIVA, the nation’s dominant league.
Under a hoped-for program restructuring, Normand is also expected to oversee the women’s fall program, which reached its high-water mark in 1986 when the Lions won a West Coast Athletic Conference title and upset UCLA in the NCAA regionals under Fortner. But she left after the school year, discouraged that Loyola could never fund a full-time coaching position, and the women’s program faltered the last two seasons.
If the restructuring is completed, Athletic Director Brian Quinn is hopeful a full-time position can be created for Normand, who teaches at a junior high school in Inglewood.
Meanwhile, Normand is wrapped up in the men’s season, in which the team has shown improvement despite a 4-13 record (3-12 in the WIVA). The Lions have defeated Pepperdine for the first time in WIVA play, beaten other good teams--UC Santa Barbara and Brigham Young--and won games from USC and Stanford. Still, for a former UCLA All-American who played on one national champion team, coached four state champion squads at Santa Monica College, then was assistant coach on three more UCLA title teams, losing is something new, and frustrating.
“We’re progressing,” Normand said. “I thought we’d do better but we’re really improved. But you still want to win. For someone as competitive as I there’s a little frustration there. It’ll take a little longer than I was hoping for. We’re right there--ready to break into the middle layer (in the WIVA). Maybe I (overestimated) myself, but I think generally everybody feels good about the program.”
“He’s just excellent,” Quinn said. “He’ll get something going here.”
Normand is talking about challenging for an NCAA title if things fall into place and the school administration more adequately funds the program. “I never step back from a challenge. I believe anything’s possible with (administration) support,” Normand said.
“If they don’t come through, then we’ll be in the middle of the pack the rest of my life, and I didn’t come here to do that. I have to know two or three years down the line we’re going to get proper funding. I have never failed yet, in any of my playing or coaching. With even footing, I don’t see myself as failing.”
The NCAA allows five volleyball scholarships. Most of the 10 teams in the WIVA give that many. Loyola doesn’t. Normand hopes that the administration will see enough improvement and popular support to increase funding, as it did for baseball a few years ago--with positive results.
“You have a better chance to win the NCAA (in volleyball) with five scholarships than with 15 for basketball,” Normand said. “The university has to realize we can be competitive. You don’t need $1 million to win in volleyball. The UCLA volleyball budget is relatively small; the same for Pepperdine and USC. You still have a shot. The players are here in California and want to stay. Let me go to bat with what I need. Then if I fail, fire me.”
Normand has recruited players for next year and hopes to field a taller lineup. He’s also talking to prospects for the women’s team.
Normand said the Lions are starting to accept his approach, though some grudgingly: “Discipline, overcoming fear and (overcoming) pain are the three most important things in life--and sports. Then to be the ultimate, you need honor and loyalty combined in. I think you’ll find each year we’ll get very, very strong and the kids will pay the price.”
Nancy Fortner felt that after seven years, having raised the Loyola women’s program to a championship level, she had paid the price. When no full-time coaching job was forthcoming, she left.
It was through a Loyola connection that she found out about the opening at Dominguez Hills. Loyola women’s basketball Coach Todd Corman dropped by to give game films to her husband, Ron, the Pepperdine women’s team coach. He mentioned the job posting. The wheels started turning.
When she began to consider returning to coaching, Fortner said, “At first I had mixed emotions. Did I want to put myself through all that again? But the more I got into it, the more excited I got.” Fortner put together a presentation for her Dominguez Hills interview.
Her resume is impressive. Before her stint at Loyola, she coached at Dominguez Hills in the program’s infancy, 1973-78, winning a league title in her last season. Now her charge is to pick up a program that has fallen to the bottom of the California Collegiate Athletic Assn., perhaps the most competitive Division II conference in the country. “I’m back and I’m real happy about it,” she said. “After two years off, it was kind of refreshing; I thought about it and began to miss it.”
Fortner doesn’t inherit a lot of talent, and her late hiring--she doesn’t officially start until the fall--puts her behind in recruiting. But she’ll have something she couldn’t get at Loyola: a full-time coaching job. She’ll also teach.
Fortner doesn’t expect things to be easy. The Toros’ funding is well below powerful rivals Cal State Northridge and UC Riverside.
“I was missing the excitement of the challenge, being around the young people,” she said. “And everybody seemed to think a lot of (Athletic Director) Dan Guerrero. I know my first year there will be difficult. I hope I can get some enthusiasm going and get some support going.”
Fortner is confident she can change the attitude of the team. Players at Loyola talked glowingly about the close-knit atmosphere she created. Fortner agreed: “That last year was such a great bonding. We were like a family. It was just a wonderful feeling. We had heart with a capital H. I hope we can get that (at Dominguez Hills). The girls at Loyola were proud to wear their uniforms. I hope (the Lady Toros) feel that way.”