COLUMBIA — Every fall, Andy Mueller's days cycle through graduate-school classes, shifts at Starbucks and Columbia College volleyball practices. But you won't hear him complain.
Mueller has been the assistant coach for the Cougars for the past three years and is enjoying his time with the team.
The Columbia College women's volleyball team is among the 24 teams that have qualified for the NAIA national championships set for Nov. 29 through Dec. 3 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Iowa.
The Cougars were given the No. 5 seed overall in the tournament, making them the top seed in Pool E, which includes Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) College, Indiana Tech University and Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.) University.
Columbia College defeated Indiana Tech on Oct. 7 in the Embry-Riddle Invitational but has not played Point Loma or Lewis-Clark this season.
The Cougars (35-3) begin play against Point Loma (19-8) at 1 p.m. Nov. 29.
"It’s been amazing, absolutely incredible," Mueller said. "I think any coach wants to continue on with the next level. In no way is it where I want to end, but for where I am right now at 25, it’s the perfect place for me.”
His passion for volleyball began in high school as a middle blocker at Francis Howell Central in St. Charles, where he was named to the all-conference team in 2005.
Six years later, he still tries to get in the game by playing with the Cougars at practice. Mueller, along with the other coaches, reminds the players to take advantage of playing while they still can.
"We kind of stress that intensity and desire, and just stress the importance of not waiting for the next play and doing things now instead of waiting for something else to happen," Mueller said.
As the assistant coach, Mueller said he enjoys staying out of the spotlight for the most part. During matches, Mueller can be seen entering and analyzing stats on an iPad.
"It's a little bit more effective use of what I can do on the bench," Mueller said. "Something that five years ago, probably, people would have laughed at."
Along with coaching the players, Mueller is also able to spend time with the women off the court. He has brought a few international players, including Brazil native Paula Ferreira, to his parent's house in St. Charles for Thanksgiving. Ferreira has gotten so close to Mueller's family that his mom has even picked Ferreira up from the airport on occasion.
"It's always really cool when you have that connection outside of volleyball also, it makes it feel like the family that we really are," Mueller said.
Mueller, who comes from a big family, wants to specialize in elementary education, particularly grades one through three.
"Everything I hear from administrators and principals, it's very rare for a man to want to go into elementary education, so whenever I started education, I realized that might be a niche that I could fill, that would be mutually beneficial not only for me, but also for schools," Mueller said.
In the meantime, Mueller works as the shift manager at the Starbucks in downtown Columbia. When he first started, Mueller enjoyed drinking coffee in a variety of flavors and styles, but now he says he prefers just black coffee. He still likes serving all kinds of drinks, though.
"You definitely have a point of pride whenever you make a drink and somebody who’s never had it before says, 'That’s really good, thanks for suggesting that,'" Mueller said. "Whenever you suggest a drink that a customer really likes, that’s pretty satisfying.”