COLUMBIA — Shane McAfee takes Stephens College volleyball seriously, and he hopes others soon will too.
Last year, in his first season as the school's head volleyball coach, McAfee led Stephens to a berth in the Midwest Conference Tournament for the first time in school history, despite a 7-23 record. This year, he wants to see the team continue trending upward.
“We are hoping to improve over last year, which was an improvement over preceding years,” McAfee said. “We were seventh (out of nine) in the conference, which in itself sounds not that impressive, but when you’ve been at the bottom of the conference forever, that was a step up.”
The improvement has a lot to do with how McAfee handles the team.
“He pushes us, which I think is new for Stephens,” senior outside hitter Cara Lei said. “A lot of people really don’t take Stephens seriously in athletics, and I think our coach is trying to prove everyone wrong by that and step up the sports we have here.”
With Columbia College, the dominant volleyball team in the area, just down the road, respect is tough to come by for a program with limited success. But McAfee’s players know he is doing his best to change that.
“He’s very dedicated, and he works really hard to give us a name and show that the volleyball team deserves respect, too, throughout the community,” junior middle hitter Megan Sheffield said.
McAfee moved to Columbia from Fairbanks, Alaska, where he worked as a high school counselor and coached several sports for 25 years. His wife, Ramona, accepted a job as an assistant dean at Columbia College in October 2008, and he followed with the rest of the family in August 2009.
McAfee was not looking for work in Columbia, but the opening at Stephens gave him an opportunity.
“One of the Columbia College volleyball assistant coaches told my wife about Stephens looking for a volleyball coach, so I just applied for it as something to do,” McAfee said. “When I came down here after retiring, I really didn’t have anything going on.”
McAfee's life has changed since moving from Alaska, but one constant remains: the gym.
“I’ve always been a gym rat,” McAfee said. “I’ve always liked being in the gym, coaching or playing, and this is an outlet for that. As long as it stays enjoyable and not too much of a hassle, then I’ll continue doing it as long as they’ll have me.”