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This article appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Champion magazine.
By David Pickle
Bren Stevens knew early on that college athletics was the right career choice. What she didn’t know was that she would find a job that would involve her in the entire field.
Stevens signed on as an assistant women’s volleyball coach at Charleston (West Virginia), her alma mater, 18 years ago. Since then, she has become head coach, now ranks 14th among active Division II coaches in career wins (484 to start the 2011 season), has been promoted to associate athletics director and has created the curriculum for a popular sports administration program at Charleston – teaching two classes a semester until recently.
Stevens has also served on a slew of American Volleyball Coaches Association committees and currently is vice chair of the Division II Management Council, along with being a member of the Division II Championship Committee and Identity Subcommittee. To make room for the Championships Committee assignment, she reluctantly gave up her spot on the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports.
“It’s really something that surprised me,” Stevens said of how one thing has led to another. “But I really enjoy all facets of my job because I get to do a little bit of everything.”
It was a match made in NCAA administrative heaven.
In a season-opening volleyball tournament in New York, Dowling defeated Charleston (West Virginia). What made it notable was that it marked the first chair vs. vice chair coaching matchup in NCAA Management Council history.
The match pitted Division II Management Council chair Rick Cole of Dowling against vice chair Bren Stevens of Charleston. Cole, the Dowling athletics director, reassumed volleyball coaching responsibilities this summer while Stevens has led the Charleston program since 1993.
Dowling, which reached the national semifinals last year, won the first set easily and then battled its way to closer wins in sets 2 and 3 for a 3-0 victory. After the victory, Cole assumed a sportsmanlike posture.
“I enjoyed an exciting match against a great team with a great coach,” he said. “I admire coach Stevens as a coach and an administrator. To compete against her was very different since we are usually working together. I much prefer being on the same team as opposed to playing against her!”
As eclectic as it seems, Stevens’ experience is woven with strong threads of teaching and learning.
About being a coach: “I’ve always really seen myself really as a teacher and being a good coach, you have to have strong teaching skills and great communication skills.”
About being an instructor: “It gives you a broader base to pull your experiences from because you’re working with so many types of students. Sometimes I think you just get in your own little world of athletics and your team and that kind of stuff. One thing I really like about teaching is it helps me keep my mind clear and sharp.”
About being a committee member: “The people on the competitive-safeguards committee, all the athletic trainers and the docs … it was an honor to get to work with them. I’ve learned a lot. I loved it.”
Stevens said she has had opportunities to catch on at smaller Division I programs but was never comfortable going that direction. “I really liked the idea that our students here are still getting scholarship dollars, our level of play is very competitive, and I really enjoy coaching at this level,” she said.
It shows. In addition to the on-court success, Stevens’ squads have been Academic All-America Teams (3.3 overall grade-point average or better) for each of the last three years while being active members of the community. For most, it’s a great experience, and the players have responded by staying in touch, which pleases the coach.
“The thing I’ve probably enjoyed the most as a coach is hearing back from these student-athletes after they’ve graduated five or 10 years from now,” Stevens said. “You know your former athletes are thinking about how they had a great experience here at the U of C and being part of our team, and I think that’s the largest compliment that you get as a coach.”