By Jac St. Jean
Out of the 24 varsity sports teams offered at Springfield College, eight of them are head-coached by women. One female coach who has added to the near 50 year winning-season streak since her start in 2011 is Coach Moira Long of the women’s volleyball team.
In 2011, Coach Long skyrocketed the team in her debut season to an NCAA Division III New England Championship, and a run all the way to the quarterfinals of the DIII National Championship.
However, volleyball was not Long’s first love in the world of sports. She played soccer growing up in Billerica, Mass. and in the seventh grade she was encouraged to play volleyball by her history teacher. After only a year, Long fell in love and started to play club volleyball in eighth grade, and went on to play through high school and into college.
“It was pretty shocking, I think, to everyone that I chose volleyball,” Long stated. “None of my friends played volleyball. I didn’t know anyone.”
Long attributes the team aspect of volleyball to her love for the sport, and a major reason why she chose it over soccer.
“I think it comes down to team culture,” Long explained. “On a volleyball court, you cannot be successful without someone else, so that’s what I love about it. Someone’s got to pass, somebody’s got to set, somebody’s got to swing… there’s a lot of cheering, there’s a lot of high-fiving… I gravitated towards that culture of volleyball, and the enthusiasm that comes along with it.”
Long headed to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York, where she would be a four-year starter on the volleyball team, and graduate in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She also coached the men’s volleyball club at Marist with some of her teammates, not thinking at the time she could make it into a career.
After graduating, Long moved to Washington, D.C. to put her degree to work, but left after only six weeks. It was then that she traveled to Springfield College and obtained a master’s degree in Sports Management in 1997.
This was also the beginning of her coaching career, as she took the role of a graduate assistant coach under the direction of head coach Joel Dearing. Long credits Dearing as a mentor to her, and someone that pushed Long to her eventual head coaching position at the Birthplace.
“[He] said to me at one point, ‘What are you doing with your life? What do you want to do?’”, Long described. “I said, ‘I really don’t know,’ and he said, ‘How about you do what I do?’ and I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s brilliant!’”
Long began searching for coaching positions after grad school, and began her head coaching career at Dickinson College. Long’s one-year stint at Dickinson marks her only losing-record season in her 24-year career as a head coach.
After that year, Long headed north to Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, where she would make the women’s volleyball team one of the top programs in New England. In her thirteen years at Plymouth, Long would lead the Panthers to a Little East Conference title and a trip to the NCAA Championships in 2004, along with a record-setting year in 2009 with a record of 32-6. Despite only attending Springfield for two years in a master’s program, Long stayed in contact with the college while at Plymouth.
“In the meantime, I kind of stayed in touch with Springfield,” Long expressed. “I always brought my teams back here to compete, and I was close with Coach [Dearing] and knew that when he retired he wanted me to take over for him.”
In 2011, Long returned to the Pride and took the head coaching position of the women’s volleyball team after her mentor coach Dearing retired.
“[Joel Dearing] is a man who always said ‘start with the end in mind,’” Long stated. “He always had the end in mind for me even before I knew what the end was… and I always knew this is where my heart was. This is where I would love to be.”
When Long took over the position, many of the players were concerned about how Long would change the team that Dearing led for twenty-two years.
“Ultimately I didn’t really need to change a lot because I was a product of his system.” Long continued, “So when I came, I think it was an easy transition for them.”
Long continues Dearing’s legacy to this day. This year marks her tenth season as head coach, and to this day continues a winning-season streak that the program has held since 1972.
In Long’s decade-long tenure with the Pride, she has produced 22 AVCA All-American, 24 AVCA All New England and 22 NEWMAC All-Conference student-athletes. Winning is most certainly important to Long, but what is more important is her connections with her past, present, and future players.
Two student-athletes who can attest to this are graduate student Camryn Bancroft and senior Ashley Tanner. Both women grew up on Long Island, New York, only seven minutes away from each other, and played on the same club volleyball team before being recruited by Long to come to Springfield. Bancroft was persuaded to look into Springfield by another Long Island-native, Daniela Detore ‘20.
“It kind of was like a ripple effect since Daniela Detore,” Bancroft expressed. “She is from the town Ashley’s from, ESM, but we [all] played club together… she’s a year older than me and I’m a year older than Ashley.”
Bancroft returned the favor to Tanner after her first year and brought her into the sisterhood of Springfield College Women’s Volleyball.
“I talked to [Bancroft] about the school,” Tanner explained. “Then I stayed overnight with her, met the team, met [Coach Long], loved it, loved her, and from that moment I knew I was going to come here.”
Right off the bat when recruits come here, Long makes sure the athletes she’s recruiting feel welcomed to the team, and has fostered a culture of women who want to get to know each other so they can work together on the court. Incoming first-year students are buddied up with current players so that they can make connections prior to arriving on Alden Street.
“Our team is really big on connections, we make that a big focus,” Tanner said. “A lot of times we rank how close we are with each other, and if you feel less connected with that one person that week you make it a point to ask, ‘Do you want to go Cheney together?’, ‘Do you want to go to the Union?’, or ‘Let’s get coffee.’”
Long, Bancroft, and Tanner also recalled the post-game of their match last week against Roger Williams. A few alumni of the volleyball team were in attendance, and after the Pride won, the former players complimented the players on their cohesiveness even before seeing Coach Long again.
“Our alumni are really invested in our success, but not just in our wins and losses,” Long proclaimed. “They’re invested in staying connected and passing along their experiences to our players now.”
This philosophy is one that was planted since Long’s first arrival at Springfield. From being mentored by Dearing, Long is now mentoring Bancroft in the same way.
“I view coach more as a mentor, personally,” Bancroft expressed. “I want to go into the coaching career and she’s always been the person that helps you grow, not just as a volleyball player, but as a person.
“Thinking about myself as a first-year compared to now, I have so much growth and maturity over the four years. She just really harps on ‘it’s not about you, it’s about the team’… and that it’s a legacy thing.”
“She’s really special,” Tanner added. “She shows up for us every single day, we can go to her for literally anything.”
Long’s determination and commitment to her team shined brighter than ever in the 2018 season, when she still decided to coach the team in the beginning of August despite recovering from brain surgery in July.
“You shouldn’t have brain surgery and then decide you’re gonna coach for a volleyball team for a season,” Long advised. “It’s pretty stupid, but I’m pretty stubborn.”
Despite Long’s short recovery from brain surgery, the team achieved a record of 24-8 that year, and inspired Bancroft, Tanner, and the rest of the team.
“Obviously her strength is insane,” Tanner stated. “One strives to be as strong as she is… after she had her brain surgery she would write in a notebook ‘I will do this today’ and she would get up and do it. She kept saying ‘I will be ready for the season’ and she came back ready for us.”
The women’s volleyball team continues to use the, “I will,” motto that Long used, and even turned it into, “We will,” to further strengthen the pack mentality that is deeply rooted in the program.
Described as a “life coach” by many of her current and former players, Coach Long has not only carried on the legacy of those who came before her like Coach Dearing, but she has paved her own way on Alden Street and garnered an amazing culture of strong women who embrace the Springfield College philosophy, honor the legacy before them, and strive to leave an impact on and off the court.
Photo: Springfield College Athletics