When Dustin Wood was hired in July as Georgia Southern’s next volleyball coach, he was well aware of the expectations.
The Sun Belt Conference is the next step for GSU, and the university’s goal is growing the national footprint. Wood’s goals are lock step with the university at large, and Chad Callihan, the former GSU coach who left the program for Wyoming in May, helped set the table by leading the Eagles to the top of the Southern Conference.
“They’ve done a great job here,” said Wood, who came to GSU after serving as an assistant at George Mason on both the men’s and women’s programs. “Our goal right now is top 50 (in the nation). Our goal is to recruit the kids that are going to help this program. We want to expand our footprint, because that’s what we’re trying to do here. Expand the recruiting base and reach the top 50, that’s our goal, and once we get there, we’ll move onto the next goal. We’re here to win.”
Wood inherits a GSU squad that won the SoCon South Division in 2012 with a 15-1 conference record, but fell short in the SoCon tournament with an upset loss to Furman in the semifinals.
“They had, I think, a little bit of a sour taste after last year,” Wood said.” Expectations are high, and they aren’t my expectations. They expect to win.”
The final season in the SoCon begins today in Mobile, Ala., at South Alabama’s Jaguar Invitational against Southern Utah at 5 p.m.
Wood will be paying close attention to see if the Eagles apply everything he’s taight them in the two months since his arrival in Statesboro.
“I told them, especially these first two weeks, that I’m just worried about them. If you do the right things, good things will happen. Just let the coaching staff deal with adjustments and scouting, and be prepared,” Wood said.
While the Eagles, who were picked to finish second this season in the preseason SoCon coaches poll, return a lot of talent — middle Kym Coley and libero Alexandra Beecher were named preseason all-conference — Wood sees plenty of room to grow. He wants to teach a more improvised game to let the players make more decisions on the fly.
“We tell them, ‘Sometimes you take a step backwards before you take two steps forward.’ We don’t want any of these girls to plateau,” Wood said. “They might be making mistakes now, but in the long run, it will pay off.”
After the South Alabama tournament, the Eagles will head to future Sun Belt rival Troy on Sept. 2, before playing another road tournament at Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., beginning on Sept. 6.
The lengthy road trip ends with the home opener at Hanner Fieldhouse against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sept. 10.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.