[ skip to content ]

Women's Volleyball Program Off to a Promising Start

By Harry Minium

The press conference was in the Big Blue Room at the Ted Constant Center. There was catered food for the 300 or so people there, which included a who's who from Old Dominion University and the Tidewater volleyball community

Why they were there was no surprise. ODU had said a week earlier that it had hired Fred Chao as its first women's volleyball coach.

What surprised me was the pomp and circumstance, the large turnout of supporters for a team that doesn't yet exist and the dogged commitment from ODU to field a competitive volleyball program.

"I guarantee you," President John R. Broderick said, "Fred Chao will have the resources necessary to develop a winning program."

Perhaps it hasn't come as quickly as some would have liked. But after years of study and preparation, ODU has a smart, well-funded plan for volleyball.

When ODU added football, it immediately added rowing and built a rowing complex to increase athletic opportunities for women. It also promised to add another sport and hinted it would be volleyball.

Volleyball is expected to have a roster of 16 players. Beach volleyball, which appears likely to follow in a few years, will again increase ODU's commitment to women's sports.

Such should be expected from the first university in the commonwealth to offer women's athletic scholarships.

Broderick said the second-most asked question he's had about athletics in recent years was when the school would start volleyball. The other was about the renovation of S.B. Ballard Stadium.

It took a while in part because of the seismic shifts in college athletics since in the last decade, including a redistribution of TV wealth upon which Power 5 schools now gorge.

Mid-major schools such as ODU have seen TV revenue fall. There have been mandated cost increases, including paying the full cost of college attendance, plus a dip in income because of a state law requiring schools to reduce the percentage of student fees they spend on athletics.

ODU had to be at the right time financially to start volleyball and was wise to wait until it had the resources.

ODU is spending $3.5 million to renovate the gymnasium at the Jim Jarrett Administration Building. It will install 840 chairback seats in a gym that in some ways reminds me of the old fieldhouse.

The acoustics aren't great, and that's perfect for a sports team. I walked in one day and yelled "Hickory," mimicking the scene from the movie "Hoosiers." The sound echoed back and forth.

If you ever attended men's and women's basketball games at the fieldhouse, you know of what I speak. A crowd of 5,000 sounded like 20,000, and capacity crowds at the Jarrett will create quite a home-court advantage.

The Jarrett building will have a ton more to offer players. I haven't been to many volleyball facilities, but this one will have coaches' offices, a players' lounge, locker room, training room and workout facility.

ODU will pay competitive salaries to Chao's coaches, give them a good recruiting budget and fully fund the 12 scholarships allowed by the NCAA. They'll have a $1.1 million budget.

Chao has yet hire an assistant coach, sign a recruit or coach a game, but from all appearances, his hiring appears to be home run.

ODU had the luxury of time to search for the right person. Athletic Director Wood Selig formed a committee headed by Ragean Hill, ODU's associate athletic director and senior women's administrator, two years ago. They began brainstorming what ODU needed in the way of facilities and a coach.

ODU spent a year looking for a coach. Hill and Carolyn Crutchfield, assistant director of athletics for marketing and community relations, compiled a list of candidates which Selig indicated was several inches high.

"They had head shots, bios and resumes of every potential candidate," Selig said.

Once the job was advertised, Hill and Crutchfield, a former Notre volleyball player, began going through applications, then went to the volleyball Final Four in Minneapolis where they met dozens of potential candidates.

The field was quickly narrowed to two - I don't know the other candidate - but did hear from the start that Chao was the favorite.

"He was the unanimous choice of everyone on the search committee," Selig said. "He made the decision easy."

Chao, 46, has a stellar resume and life story. His parents immigrated to America from Taiwan. They had four kids who are all successful. His parents wanted Fred to become a doctor or a scientist, but his mother eventually relented and blessed his choice to go into volleyball coaching.

As he paid homage to his family, including his wife, Dana, and children, Keira and Kyler, he choked up just a little.

"Without you, none of this would be possible," he said to Dana.

The Silver Spring, Md., native played volleyball at Pepperdine, then transferred to George Mason, where he played and later became head coach for the men's volleyball for 15 years. He also spent six years as an assistant for the women.

He was in his second year with the Duke women's team, which advanced to the NCAA tournament, when he applied at ODU.

Broderick interviews every potential head coach and said Chao stood out.

"One of the things that most impressed me about Fred was that he was prepared and ready to talk about so many aspects of this University, which he is going to have to represent," Broderick said.

"I was really impressed with his knowledge of the institution, with what he knew about our academics. And candidly, he took the time to learn a lot about myself and Wood.

"He's not just somebody who talks about preparation. He does it."

Broderick said much of their discussion centered around academics.

"I was impressed with his dynamic personality," he said. "He will recruit well, engage the community and he's all about academic excellence. For those of you who work here, you know how important that is to me."

"The fact is," he added, about a recent basketball game, "that in this building the other night we had more than 150 athletes who were dean's list students that were honored. That speaks well for us as an athletic program and a university."

Chao won't have the advantage Bobby Wilder had when he began football in 2009. He has one season to recruit and practice his players, then steps right into Division I with a full Conference USA schedule in 2020.

"It's a challenge," he said. "But it's a challenge I'm looking forward to."

Chao said he hopes to sign six or eight players for next season. They will work hard and watch a lot of film. "I want them to know what we're going up against," he said.

He added that he'll likely go after a couple of graduate transfers as 2020 approaches.

His goal is to have the best volleyball program in the state. That means knocking heads with James Madison and VCU, both ranked among the nation's top 70 last season.

Conference USA is a strong volleyball league. Western Kentucky has been the traditional power, but Rice and Florida Atlantic also have outstanding programs.

Selig said as the selection committee was making a final decision, he received a text from Tom O'Conner, who was athletic director when Chao was at George Mason.

Selig read it aloud: "Fred is a great person. I've never had any issue with him. Excellent coaching and communications skills. You will have nothing to worry about."

Yes, volleyball is in an embryonic stage, but I think the "all is well" also applies to the start ODU has made with its 17th sport.

Related News Stories


NASCAR Driver and ODU Freshman Follows in Father's Footsteps

ODU business student Mason Diaz puts his NASCAR dreams on the fast track. (More)

Barry Kornblau and ODAF

ODU Names Football Field for Barry Kornblau

The Richmond-area alumnus, who has donated more to ODU athletics than anyone else, is honored for his lifetime giving. (More)

AUA 2017 Vice Presidents Panel Discussion

ODAF Raised a Record $16.1 Million in 2018

ODU has nearly doubled athletic fundraising in two years, and part of the reason is the renovation of S.B. Ballard Stadium. (More)

Site Navigation

Experience Guaranteed

Enhance your college career by gaining relevant experience with the skills and knowledge needed for your future career. Discover our experiential learning opportunities.

Academic Days

Picture yourself in the classroom, speak with professors in your major, and meet current students.

Upcoming Events

From sports games to concerts and lectures, join the ODU community at a variety of campus events.