26 wins, 1 loss, and 78 Jimmy Buffett Concerts: Q&A with Volleyball Coach Rick Swan

By BEN HALL

Coach Rick Swan has led the CC women’s volleyball team to a 26-1 record and undefeated conference title in his 20th season as head coach. The team is poised for a run at the regional championship and is currently ranked number one in the NCAA D3 Western Conference. The team plays at home against Cornell College on Friday, Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. in Reid Arena.

Photo courtesy of Colorado College Bulletin

Ben Hall: In past years, the volleyball team has performed very well. What stands out to you about this year’s team?

Rick Swan: We’ve consistently had good years and good records, but what stands out about this year is we’re not only 26-1, but it’s the competition we’ve played. We’ve played five matches against teams currently ranked in the top five, and won all five of those. That’s something we haven’t done before.

BH: How did you get into volleyball? Did you play growing up?

RS: I played basketball. I had a sister who went to Palmer High School, right down the road [from CC], and she played volleyball. She was older than me, so whenever we had free time she wanted to play volleyball, and I wanted to play basketball, but we ended up playing volleyball most of the time…Gradually I played a lot of outdoor volleyball in the summertime when we moved to Virginia. I played on a club team in college, continued to play out of college, and then got into coaching and loved it.

BH: What was your first job?

RS: Lifeguard, right when I first moved to Virginia.

BH: Are there any qualities that you see in being a good lifeguard that you think also make a good volleyball coach?

RS: I think as a lifeguard you need to be responsible; you have people who you’re overseeing who you have to take care of, and make sure their health and wellbeing is your top priority. I think that goes with a coach in a lot of ways. When we walk in the gym, you have to make sure the gym itself and equipment is set up so the health and safety of your players is the number one concern.

BH: Do you have any hobbies or other interests outside of volleyball?

RS: I’m an avid fitness person. I’ve done the Pikes Peak Marathon, the Pikes Peak Ascent three times… I also have a strong passion for Jimmy Buffett music. I’m a huge Parrothead. I enjoy going to Jimmy Buffett concerts, I’ve been to about 78 now.

BH: You’ve been the head coach here for about 20 years now. How do you keep coaching exciting and interesting year to year, or what about the job inherently continues to be exciting and interesting for you?

RS: I think you do that by continuing to challenge yourself to try to get better. I think the students we have are amazing, and they challenge me every day to be the best I can be, and that’s important. Every day’s kinda different—whether you’re recruiting, coaching in the gym, or putting schedules together—things change quite a bit, but you have to enjoy it. I think over the years I’ve done a better job of learning to enjoy the job more and more each day, and really look at how lucky I am to be here at Colorado College at this amazing institution with the resources we have and coach and influence these amazing young women who come to play here.

BH: That’s cool that you’ve been able to enjoy coaching progressively more over the years.

RS: Yeah, and it helps that we win a lot I think. There’s times when you sit here and really feel the stress that you put on yourself, and you have to remember that pressure is a privilege, and I’d rather have the privilege of that pressure to have to win than be a team that’s not there yet.

BH: I interviewed [team members] Jordan and Haley earlier this year, and they talked a lot about how surprisingly mental of a game volleyball is, because you have so many working parts and everyone has to be in that right mindset.

RS: And I think the other thing that makes it so mental is you have stoppage of play so much. When you make a mistake, and you hit the ball in the net or you hit it out, the play’s dead. Everybody stops, and it’s on you. Compare it to basketball, you miss a shot, and someone gets a rebound and you’re going the other way, and it’s not on you. Maybe you throw a ball out of bounds and then it’s on you, but in volleyball it happens every single point, so it can be very mentally tough. You have to learn to forget about what just happened, and prepare yourself to win the next point.

BH: Do you have a favorite story to tell players?

RS: I was telling my best timeout story recently. I wasn’t coaching here, I was coaching a club team… we’d taken my daughter and three other girls up to a tournament in Fort Morgan, Colorado. And if you’ve ever been to Fort Morgan, there’s not a lot to do up there, but we had a hotel that had a pool, and all these 12-year-old girls talked about the whole way up was they had to go swimming in the pool. That’s all they cared about. They could care less that they were playing volleyball, they just wanted to go swimming. We got up there, checked into the hotel room, changed, put on their swimsuits, ran down the hallway, and jumped in the elevator. But there’s kids getting off the elevator and one of them asks, “You guys going to the pool?” and our girls say yeah! And then this kid goes, “Pool’s closed.” They’re like, “No, it’s open til nine, it’s only eight!” and he says, “Nope, somebody pooped in the pool.” So these little girls are livid. They were so mad. The next day at the tournament we’re playing this match, and we lose the first set. We’re losing the second set 7-3. I called a timeout, and I told them, “You know, I might be coaching you guys a little too much… so I’m just gonna sit back here and let you guys play. But I gotta tell you, I’m really mad, because you see that girl over there? She’s the one that pooped in the pool and kept you from swimming last night, and now you’re gonna let her beat you today.” And I’ll tell you what, those 12-year-olds came out fired up, they came back and won that match, and then won the third set. Killed them. So I like to tell that story, because it’s what can get kids motivated. And they believed it for about six months until I had to tell them at the end of the season, “I kinda fibbed on that one a little bit.” 

BH: Do you have anything you want to get out to whoever happens to read this article?

RS: We have a big match on Friday night against a good opponent, Cornell College… We’d love to see a big crowd, pack the house, and come cheer on the lady Tigers, because these young women are amazing and watching them play is very exciting and a lot of fun.

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