There was no hiding the emotion in her voice.
It was passionate and communicated not only a love for the sport, but more importantly a love for the players and for the school. At some point in her life her job was no longer about the banners or the trophies, at some point it became about the moments and the relationships.
Over the last 19 years, Lisa Seifert has built SMU volleyball from the ground up – literally.
The only volleyball coach in SMU’s history, Seifert started building the program in 1996. I was four years old at the time. As SMU volleyball heads into its 20th season, Seifert’s focus is as resolved and determined as ever. She still has a burning passion to win – a drive to accomplish what she came here to do nearly 20 years ago: win a conference title and make it to the NCAA tournament.
Less than 12 months ago, the program looked to be on the verge of finally receiving an NCAA tournament birth. Ranked 38th nationally and second in the American Athletic Conference, arguably the sixth power conference, the Mustangs had a top 25 win under their belt along with a staggering record of 26-6, 15-1 at home.
“I wasn’t overly confident,” Seifert explained, “but based on the comments that were made to me by committee members and various coaches I felt like we had more than a good shot.”
At the time of the selection, the team had an RPI ranking of 38th in the country, and with consideration being given for a couple key injuries that contributed to two of their losses, it finally looked like their luck was going to shift and they would get the nod.
But fate had other plans. Inexplicably, the selection committee passed up the Mustangs and selected UCF as the only team from the American to go. “How do you win 26 out of 32 and not get the nod? Our RPI was 38, they took a team at 54,” Seifert said emotionally, “It was a dagger to our hearts.”
There it was again, the passion, the emotion in her voice. It wasn’t about the trophies, it wasn’t about the losing, it was about upholding a commitment she made to the program, the school, and her players.
“It was our best shot – it felt like failure,” Seifert said. “I have really good people in my life and really great friends, however, I feel like I’ve failed. I can’t help it. I don’t have a conference championship and I don’t have an NCAA tournament under my belt.”
Seifert took the job in 1996 as a confident and competitive coach. After spending years as the recruiting coordinator for Texas Tech, Seifert was ready to make her own future.
“I was just cocky, I thought it would take me four years to have a competitive program. I remember that being one of the interview questions when I sat down with Jim Copeland,” Seifert explained.
At the time, she was also being courted by cross-town rival TCU. However, she knew she wanted to be at SMU, and early on during her hiring process Seifert saw that the administration would be willing to do anything to back her up and support the program. Seifert’s prediction was almost spot on. In her fourth season as head coach the Mustangs posted a record of 20-13, the programs first 20 win season.
Over her time at SMU, Seifert has received three other coaching offers, and every time the university administration has matched those offers and done their part to ensure that Seifert remained in place with the tools that she needs to succeed.
“I considered them for a moment, but I was in a great place at the time and when I had the offers I was transparent with the administration. They’ve been committed to me and did their part to make me want to stay,” Seifert said.
The pain still resonates in her face when Seifert discusses missing out on the tournament, however there is something else there as well. Something so powerful and contagious that I left our interview questioning my commitment level to Mustang athletics and the university as a whole.
For the 20 years that Seifert has been at SMU, there has been one thing that she hasn’t been able to figure out or understand. One problem that she’s been unable to solve, and that is the lack of support by the fan base.
“It’s been a challenge getting people to come and watch us,” Seifert said, “I’ve been trying to figure it out for 20 years. I don’t know how to get the student population out to our games. I wish I could inject them with Mustang pride.”
It’s puzzling as to why the volleyball program lacks support from the fans, community, and student body, especially when the games are free. However, with the exception of the basketball program’s recent success, SMU’s fanship has been less then acceptable, and almost disheartening.
“I’m so proud of the way they [the players] work. They work so hard in every area, what they actually do while they are here. It’s disappointing that people don’t want to support them. They’re such good people,” Seifert said proudly.
For the sport of volleyball, crowd energy during the match is not much of a factor. But for the athletes on the court, when they look up in the stands before and after the games there is always the question, “Why doesn’t anyone support us? Why won’t they come watch us play?”
Coach Seifert’s attitude and actions reflect 20 years of coaching wisdom and experience and the mindset of someone who isn’t willing to give up on her dreams or the dreams of her players.
“I’m not one to promise, generally speaking, however I’m not the only one fired up,” Seifert said. “They are definitely motivated. They learned a huge lesson last season.”
Once again there it was, the raw passion and pure dedication to volleyball, her players, and the university. It was addicting, intoxicating, and infectious.
“How are you giving back to your school? I really believe that if you came to one match you would not be disappointed.” Seifert said.
This year, the Mustangs return 6 of 7 starters to the team. They also return to the court fired up, motivated, and with a chip on their shoulder. This year, the Mustangs won’t give the selection committee a reason to leave them out.
“We’ve pumped up the schedule a lot this year to erase any doubt,” Seifert said.
Two of SMU’s toughest match-ups will be against Arizona at home and UCLA on the road. The Mustangs kick off their season on August 28th in a double header. Their first game is at 11:00 am against UTEP, while their second game is at 7:00 pm against Arizona.
“Those moments are my trophies. God knows I want that ring, but having the relationships I’ve built over the years, and people that surround the program; it isn’t a materialistic thing, but those things are worth more than the trophies or the rings,” Seifert said.
During my conversation with Coach Seifert, I learned that there is much more heart within our volleyball program than I ever imagined, and after seeing the passion in her eyes and hearing the emotion in her voice I suddenly realized that I don’t want to miss a single volleyball game this season or ever again for that matter.
So for all you Mustang fans our there ask yourself, am I supporting the red and blue? Or am I bleeding red and blue? Because there is a difference. Hopefully I’ll see you at some matches, cause God knows I will be there.