Making sure his team feels like a family has always been one of the most important elements for head coach Charlie Sullivan and the Springfield College men’s volleyball team, and one of those brothers includes senior John Coen.
Within any family setting there are highs and lows, but navigating away from confrontation, and using aggression in a positive way is something Sullivan tries to preach.
“I knew there was going to be a lot of competition between me and Alistair [Matthews, the starting opposite hitter],” Coen said. “We’re both good players and very competitive. I feel like we counteract each other. He does a lot of good things, and I do a lot of other things that he doesn’t necessary thrive with. It really comes down to practice. Whoever gets the spot is in coach’s hands.”
Volleyball fits only six players on the court at once, and essentially some players aren’t granted a chance to prosper and present their talent, but within this group of players, including the Chicago native, opportunity allows the players around to progress and enhance with vital practice, and sometimes match atmosphere.
“Seventy-five percent of the season is because of practicing,” Coen said. “A lot of people that come to our games don’t realize that players who are practicing and pushing the first team have a lot to do with the success our program has had.”
Many players in Coen’s position would just sit out and call it quits, but this opposite hitter is determined to provide leverage to any teammate and live in the moment.
“John is the type of person who makes everyone around him better,” four-year roommate and teammate Greg Falcone said. “He really pushes people around him, and has a championship volleyball mentality that is necessary to retrieve our goals.”
The success within Coen and the team didn’t just emerge from out of the blue. Ultimately, this team took a page out of the Mighty Ducks.
Coen, who grew up 15 minutes from Wrigley Field, met middle blocker Falcone, fellow opposite hitter Alistair Matthews, and 2012 NCAA Division III MVP Mike Pelletier through club experiences and U.S.A. Volleyball camps.
“I knew Pelli [Pelletier] from a few volleyball camps,” Coen said. “I didn’t know he was going to Springfield, but I found that out later. Greg [Falcone] contacted me at junior nationals in the summer before coming into freshman year. We were thinking with us four, including Alistair [Matthews], this could be one of the best volleyball classes Springfield has ever had, and we are still looking to accomplish that.”
Coen’s accomplishments go as far as starring in first-team All-State with St. Patrick’s High School (Chicago, Ill.) and finishing 15th in the Junior National Championships. Recently, his excellence showed at an enormous game, and was truly a testament to the senior’s hard-working mindset when his number gets called.
“We were playing our third game of the weekend in Juniata. We were down 0-2 against Medaille,” Sullivan said. “John came in and played the last three games at an exceptionally high level. He gave us some offensive spunk (hitting .500), a zone-two block, and good serves. That’s a testament to John. He hasn’t started as many games as Alistair has, but he has really worked hard and is improving his skills. John came through huge with flying colors in that game. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the play of John Coen.”
According to all of his supporters along the way, which consists of his parents Catherine and Jim, and sister Jennifer, as well as his high school and club team coaches, “Johnny Bombs” was made to play college ball.
“Talking to his high school coach after his sophomore year we thought that John was good, but didn’t really know if he was good enough to play college ball. His coach didn’t hesitate for one second to say, ‘Yes, he could and yes, he should.’ After that we helped him out any way we could for John to reach his goal of playing college volleyball,” his mother Catherine commented.
The conscientious attacker’s 2013 production of 45 kills and 16 digs has been limited, but his eyes are set on the ultimate prize for the second consecutive year.
“We want to do the best we can against Division III opponents,” Coen said. “Our expectations are to win out the rest of the season and receive the No. 1 seed for the Division III Tournament just like we did last year. It will definitely give us a better opportunity to win again.”
Coen and the Pride have won four consecutive matches in the closing days of February, and will look to further their success all the way to another national title.