In four short years, head coach Eric Neely turned the Babson volleyball program upside down. He took over a team that had one winning record in its previous eight seasons, had finished no higher than fourth in the conference since 1994, and was devoid of a league championship.
This season the volleyball team achieved a program-best 27 victories, won its first NEWMAC championship, and made its first NCAA Tournament appearance. Tying for first in the conference’s regular season standings, Babson went on to win the league tournament crown before emerging victorious in its first NCAA Tournament match.
“When I arrived, the players who were here wanted to win,” says Neely, “but they hadn’t been put in a position where expectations for their workouts were that high. The first thing we did was to instill a competitive practice environment. We then started to build a culture of players who work on their games in the offseason.”
Those players included Kseniya Pulido ’15 and walk-on Brianna San Diego ’15, around whom Neely built the team. “They have the right culture, they act the way you want players to act, and they have a high volleyball IQ,” says Neely, a twotime NEWMAC Coach of the Year. “They did a great job setting the tone and bringing a level of intensity to every day. Our goal was by their senior year to have a great team built in their image.”
Mission accomplished, as the tandem led the Beavers to a 27-9 record and a 9-1 NEWMAC mark last fall. Since 2011, Pulido and San Diego helped Babson average 21 wins a year. Pulido leaves the program as its all-time digs leader, while San Diego ranks third. “We wanted to win a championship this year,” says San Diego. “Coach Neely always talks about defense, mental toughness, and championship. We were able to achieve each one of those. Winning the championship was the best feeling of my life.”
As for the future of Babson volleyball, Neely sees no reason why the program can’t reach new heights. “Our success is limited only by what I can do as a coach,” he says. “Can I sell the program to recruits, can I raise the level of the game of our current players, and can I tactically be a good coach in matches? There’s no reason why we can’t win national championships here.” —Scott Dietz, associate director of athletics