COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Jan. 23, 2017) – USA Volleyball’s Indoor High Performance program has developed elite youth athletes into some of the top world-class athletes over the years, and those athletes have shined on the biggest stages. However, the High Performance pipeline has not only produced star athletes, but also develop the coaching ranks who mentor, teach and lead the athletes to greatness.
During the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Wingate University Head Volleyball Coach Shelton Collier, like many other coaches and spectators across the country, was cheering on the U.S. Olympic Women’s Team. Collier, a long-time coach with the USA Volleyball High Performance program, did however take a special interest in four of the USA women during the Olympic Games and on the medal stand as they were presented bronze medals.
Collier had the fortune of being the head coach for Foluke Akinradewo (Plantation, Florida, Twitter, Instagram), Rachael Adams (Cincinnati, Ohio, Twitter, Instagram), Jordan Larson (Hooper, Nebraska, Twitter, Instagram) and Christa Dietzen (Hopewell Township, Pennsylvania, Twitter, Instagram) when each of them competed in their first-ever international volleyball experiences as young teenagers in the High Performance program.
“I have sincerely enjoyed coaching with the USA Volleyball High Performance program over the years,” Collier said. “One of the objectives of the program is to select the best young players in the country and allow them to have meaningful international competitions at an early age. It was a very special time for me to have had the opportunity to coach these players in FIVB World Championship events back when they were 15 to 17 years old, and it was awesome seeing them develop over their careers and be on the medal stand in Rio.”
In 2003, Collier was the head coach for the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team at the FIVB Women’s U18 World Championship in Poland. Larson, who was part of the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Youth A1 program, led the way at the 2003 World Championship as the top outside hitter in her first-ever international event. She was named as the top server of the World Championship that year and the team placed fourth, which at that time was the highest ever finish for any U.S. Girls’ team.
Larson expressed some positive reflections on her experiences with Collier.
“The one thing I remember most about playing for Shelton was when I was trying to perfect my jump serve,” Larson said. “He really influenced my technique and confidence, and really helped me find a good rhythm. He was always wanting us to find a good rhythm on the court with our teammates and create a positive environment. It was a lot of fun to have him coach both our youth and junior teams. I thought he really helped me prepare for college, and ultimately as a national team player.”
Joining Larson on that team were Nicole Fawcett (Zanesfield, Ohio, Instagram) and Alexis Crimes (Rancho Cucamonga, California, Instagram), who were alternates for the 2016 Olympic Games roster.
“Working with Shelton my first year of USA Volleyball and international play opened my eyes to another world I had only dreamed of,” Fawcett said. “Shelton showed me a side of myself that I never knew existed, let alone tapped into. Not only from a coaching aspect, Shelton was an amazing coach teaching us the volleyball world was much bigger than we knew but allowed us to take responsibilities ourselves to push us past all expectations that were had for us. I still look back on that year, cherishing it to this day and am forever thankful to him for opening up possibilities I would never have dreamed of.”
In 2004 Collier was the head coach of the U.S. Women’s Junior National Team that took home the gold medal at the NORCEA Women’s Continental Championship with Larson and Akinradewo as key players. Akinradewo, who has established herself as one of the top middles in the world, expressed some interesting insights on her early experience as a High Performance player.
“My 15-year-old self who couldn’t pepper for longer than five seconds and who could only serve one out of 50 balls in the court definitely didn’t foresee my life panning out the way it has,” Akinradewo said. “Volleyball has certainly paved the way for me in so many different avenues, and I couldn’t be more grateful and blessed.
“In addition to developing our technical skills, Shelton always emphasized the importance of developing our relational skills. I remember he gave us index cards and were to write one positive thing about each teammate every day. It was a task that I greatly valued because not only did it give me a boost of confidence each day, but it also reminded me how important it was for my peers to receive positive affirmations from me. This has served me well throughout my career and has continued to help me foster good relationships with my teammates on both the National Team and on my professional teams abroad.”
The following year Collier was selected as the head coach for the U.S. Women’s Junior National team that would represent the USA at the 2005 FIVB Women’s U20 World Championship in Turkey. Akinradewo was a key member of this team as well, with Collier selecting a young Dietzen for this squad as well. Dietzen, who recently retired from the game after being recognized as one of the top world-class middles with two Olympic Games medals to her credit, was in her first-ever experience representing USA Volleyball in an international competition back in 2005. Collier utilized Dietzen’s notable skills as a slide attacker and played her in the opposite position where she experienced tremendous success.
“I am very thankful to have been a part of the USA Volleyball junior pipeline during my junior and senior years of high school and to have had the opportunity to play for Shelton,” Dietzen said. “Those experiences were pivotal in my development as a volleyball player with the exposure at the international level at such a young age. Training and competing alongside the best in the country was very eye opening and certainly played a role in my growth and path to the Olympic Games.”
Collier helped USA Volleyball bring home another gold medal in 2006 as the head coach of the U.S. Girls’ Youth National Team at the NORCECA Girls’ Youth Continental Championship. It was in this event that Adams made her debut as a high-flying, high-potential young middle attacker. Adams was the 2016 USA Volleyball Female Indoor Most Improved Player after starting all eight matches during the Olympic Games. Michelle Bartsch (Marysville, Illinois, Twitter), who was on the same 2006 U.S. Girls Youth Team, as an alternate on the 2016 Olympic Games roster. Winning this NORCECA event qualified Team USA for the 2007 FIVB Women’s U18 World Championship in Mexico where Collier continued on as the head coach.
Tom Pingel, USA Volleyball senior director overseeing events and high performance, speaks highly of Collier’s contribution to the USA Volleyball High Performance program.
“Since the program’s inception, Shelton has been a valued asset of the athlete pipeline of USA Volleyball,” Pingel said. “His passion, expertise and willingness to work with a myriad of different skill and age levels through the years has allowed not only for USA Volleyball to assign him to the highest area of need for that particular year, but also allow Shelton to impact a wider range of athletes and coaches. Shelton’s true impact certainly can’t be easily measured, but it is widely acknowledged and appreciated by the U.S. National Teams and High Performance programs. We are proud that these four Olympians got their start with the USA pipeline with Shelton’s guidance.”
Collier first became involved with USA Volleyball in 1985 as then U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach Terry Liskevych invited him to the San Diego Training Center to coach the USA “B” team and to begin developing young players in the pipeline. Liskevych brought Collier along to be his head scout for the USA team at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea.
In 1989, Collier left his position as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh and moved to San Diego, accepting the full-time position as assistant coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. Since then, Collier has worked under national Team head coaches Toshi Yoshida, Lang Ping, Hugh McCutcheon and now Karch Kiraly as a valued coach in the USA Volleyball High Performance program.
“I was so fortunate to have opportunities very early in my career to be involved with USA Volleyball,” Collier said. “It has been an enjoyable challenge to represent so many different coaches and different coaching philosophies as we teach young players about the techniques, priorities and culture of the U.S. Women’s National Team program. I, along with many, many other coaches in the High Performance program, take this responsibility very seriously, and we are proud of being able to be an extension of the U.S. National Team pipeline with young players across the country.”
Collier, who has been head coach of the USA Girls Youth A1 program in USA Volleyball High Performance pipeline for the last seven years, has now taken on a new challenge with USA Volleyball, and has joined veteran boys’ coach Jonah Carson to establish a mentor program within the High Performance coaching ranks. In a sense, Collier has now evolved from directly coaching the players to “coaching the coaches” at the High Performance Championships. Collier and Carson unveiled the first year of the program at the 2016 USA Volleyball High Performance Championships in Ft Lauderdale, Florida, and are planning on expanding the program this summer’s High Performance Championships.
Carson and Collier have worked to collaborate and cross reference coaching principles from both the U.S. Women’s and Men’s National Team programs with the goal of enhancing the development of coaches at the High Performance Championships.
“Mentoring coaches is obviously a much different challenge than coaching players,” Collier said. “Jonah and I were both looking for a new way to contribute to USA Volleyball, and we are both really excited about influencing the development of coaches who wish to continue their growth as future USA coaches.”
Outside of USA Volleyball’s High Performance program, Collier is in his 15th season at Wingate University with a career record of 994-281 (.780).
Collier and Carson will be presenting a session at the 2017 USA Volleyball High Performance Coaches Clinic (HPCC) entitled “The Coaching Journey: The Influence of being a Mentor Coach and having a Mentor Coach.” The HPCC is taking place Feb. 9-11 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The headline presenters are:
- Karch Kiraly – Head Coach, U.S. Women’s National Team; 1st World Championship Gold Medal in 2014, Bronze Medal in 2016 Rio Olympic Games, & 3-time Olympic Gold Medalist
- Bill Hamiter – Head Coach, U.S. Women’s Sitting Team; Silver Medals in 2008 & 2012 Paralympic Games & 1st Olympic Gold Medal in 2016 Rio Olympic Games
- Matt Fuerbringer – Assistant Coach, U.S. Men’s National Team; Bronze Medal in 2016 Rio Olympic Games
- Keegan Cook – Head Coach, University of Washington Women’s Volleyball; 2016 U.S. Collegiate National Team Head Coach, 2015 AVCA Division I Pacific North Region Coach of the Year, 2016 Pac-12 Champions
- Beth Launiere – Head Coach, University of Utah Women’s Volleyball; 500+ career victories; 2016 U.S. Collegiate National Team Head Coach