COLUMBIA— Stephens College volleyball coach Abby Funderburk is learning with her team.
“I mean, it’s a new coach, new freshmen, a new conference and a new level of collegiate play,” Funderburk said. “So we just have to get used to the new, and not be afraid of change.”
Funderburk, named the Stars' head coach earlier this year, is two years out of William Woods University and finished graduate school this year. She was a two-time first team all-conference player for the Owls, a two-time all-conference honorable mention and the 2004 AMC Libero of the Year. After graduation, Funderburk was an assistant coach at William Woods University for two years before coming to Stephens College.
Funderburk has played volleyball since she was in kindergarten, and both her parents were coaches. “Volleyball has always been in my blood," she said. "I just love being around the game and so, because I can’t play, I can coach and still be around volleyball.”
Funderburk knows it will take time to become recognized as a serious contender in the American Midwest Conference.
“Stephens hasn’t always been the athletic school, or people don’t know Stephens athletics,” Funderburk said. “They’re trying to change that, and I think it's starting. People in our conference, when we play them, they don’t expect us to come out and play, and we hang with people.”
Funderburk knows building a consistent winner is a process.
“It’s not going to change overnight, hopefully they know that. I know that,” Funderburk said. “It’s going to take hard work, and I’ve told them we have to work harder, practice harder, run harder and go longer than any team in the conference if we want to be successful.
"People aren’t just going to hand it to us because we’re Stephens, they’re not just going to be like, ‘Well, OK, you guys aren’t really that good, we’re going to go easy on you.’ No one’s going to do that, they’re going to go even harder because we are new.”
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in visual communications and is pursuing her goal of becoming a sports information director for a college. Stephens College does not currently have a position like that, but Funderburk, who now works full-time at a mall, hopes to help build the program to a point where a sports information director would be necessary.
“Because we’re such a newer school as far as athletics go, we’re trying to build the program and build the athletics at Stephens,” Funderburk said. “Hopefully, in the next couple years, we will get an SID position, where I would do both, coach volleyball and do that.”
The Stars finished first in the Baptist Bible College Tournament last weekend and are 8-8 on the season but winless in the AMC at 0-4. So Funderburk has to work to instill a winning attitude.
I'm "trying to get them to the mentality that you guys can succeed as a team and it's OK to win,” Funderburk said. “They’re not afraid to win, but it’s something new to them, because they haven’t been successful as far as winning goes.”
Sophomore Brianne Arvin said one of her goals is to be a contender in the conference.
“Other teams won’t just expect to beat us, like they usually have,” Arvin said. “We’ll just keep building at getting better.”
Funderburk has seen her players respond well to all the changes this season by playing hard and learning along with her.
“They’ve really given it their all, and ... I can trust them to do things that I couldn’t trust most teams to do,” Funderburk said. “Like, for instance, run a practice by themselves or condition by themselves. If they don’t know, they’re not afraid to ask questions, which I like.
"I wouldn’t want them to just go and do something wrong, and be doing it the whole time and not ask, well, ‘Why are we doing this?’ So then I can say, 'Well, this is why we’re doing this,' and then they can know that she’s not making us do this just for fun, or just for her laughs.”
Stephens College is the only school in the AMC without an assistant coach. Funderburk said not having another coaching opinion can make game decisions difficult, especially in her first year.
“One of the biggest obstacles is not having an assistant to kind of bounce ideas off,” Funderburk said. “And I’m still learning, like, 'OK, when should I sub, when should I call a timeout?'”
The Stars athletic program is looking into adding an assistant, or possibly starting a junior varsity squad, which would add another coach and help with player development.
“To have someone else’s point of view, I guess, would be nice,” Arvin said, “but we don’t really need one.”
Funderburk said she wants her team to focus on having fun.
“If you’re not having fun, then it’s not worth it anymore,” Funderburk said.
Stephens College plays at 7 p.m. on Friday at , University of Illinois-Springfield.