As the spring 2014 semester went underway, the NJIT women’s volleyball team not only saw the start of a new season, but also a brand new head coach who plans on leading them to victory. NJIT welcomes Pete Volkert, a seasoned coach who has coached at an impressive number of colleges and who has a clear passion for volleyball. He has an impressive resume. The teams he’s coached have won their conferences and gone on to the NCAA Tournaments those years, twice with Manhattan College and once with Pace University, where they won matches in the tournament and made it to the Sweet Sixteen (the final 16 teams left in the NCAA Tournament).
Athletic director Lenny Kaplan said, “We feel lucky to get a coach with Pete’s credentials. He is a proven winner at the Division I level. His two most recent head coaching stops were at city schools, Manhattan and Fordham both in the Bronx, and both with strong academic reputations. Manhattan’s academic focus, like NJIT’s, is in engineering, so we felt it was a very good match.”
I was recently given the opportunity to talk over the phone with Coach Volkert to discuss his previous credentials, his reasons for coming to NJIT, and his aspirations for this season.
Q: Why did you choose to come to NJIT?
A: I’ve been coaching since 1992. It’s something that I love to do. For the last 17 years, I’ve been coaching Division I schools. I coached at Manhattan College for 7 years, and [Lenny] Kaplan worked there at the time, so I got to know him. In 2000 he went to NJIT, and he was someone I already met and knew, so when the opportunity arose for me to coach at NJIT, it was a no brainer for me that I wanted to touch base and see what NJIT was looking for. It was a good fit!
Q: How do the schools you’ve previously coached at differ from NJIT?
A: Fordham and Manhattan were private and smaller Catholic universities. Manhattan is similar to NJIT since they both have big engineering programs. Fordham is known for law school and pre-law programs for undergrad, and Pace is known for law, so different types of students want to go to different schools. The biggest difference though was the small, private Catholic schools. My first state university is NJIT.
Q: What do you think of the women’s volleyball team?
A: I’ve been here for about 3 weeks. They’re a great group of girls. Of the 11 girls I’ve met, academics are their first priority, with athletics right behind. They are very hardworking, intelligent, passionate about the sport, and work very hard. It’s been nothing but 3 weeks of joy! A wonderful experience. They certainly welcomed me in and I’m certainly really excited about them, and hopefully we can do some really good things here at NJIT and raise the level of the program.
Q: What are some of your goals and expectations for this season?
A: I like to sit down with the team and make team goals. Even though I’m the coach, the #1 thing is not just what I want, but what we want as a team. You know, we’re a family, one cohesive unit. We need goals we can all shoot for together. We want to take program in an upward direction and do much better. From a ranking standpoint, last year the team finished 307 out of 332 teams, so there were only 25 teams in the whole country that we did better than last year. We pretty much have to go up, and that’s what we want to do. These are our expectations: to build a stronger program.
Q: Do you hope to stay at NJIT?
A: I absolutely would like to stay at NJIT. I think NJIT has some great things to offer. It’s a great academic school. And just being Division I – the highest level of athletics – is an awesome thing. It’s something I’ve been doing for the past 17 years. There’s no other division I’d like to be at. NJIT is the perfect school because of the personnel, like the administrators that I’ve met so far. Of all the people that I’ve met, they’ve been so super warm and welcoming and really nice to work with. This is a great place to be and I’d certainly like to have a long future here.