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Lauren Steinbrecher coaches JMU volleyball on the sidelines.

Prior to 2020, JMU volleyball coaches Lauren and Casey Steinbrecher could be found on the sidelines of games and practices. However, in the spring, former assistant coach Casey Steinbrecher accepted a position to become head coach of women’s volleyball down the road at Eastern Mennonite University. Now, the two are the leaders to successful volleyball programs, and they’re only a five-minute drive away from each other.

Lauren’s been the head coach at JMU for the past 10 years, earning a 180-106 all-time record and two back-to-back CAA championships. Throughout her time at JMU, she’s made a name for herself as well as developed many personal connections with her roster. Despite it all, she often didn’t get to meet any recruits in the early process, but that’s where Casey came in.

Casey joined the JMU volleyball coaching staff in 2010 shortly after Lauren was hired. As the head for recruitment, Casey was the coach that recruits met first and developed early relationships with, particularly once a player has committed. Casey was the first coach on the JMU staff to demonstrate the team’s open-door policy — where athletes are able to talk to the coaches about anything at any time — and has planned on bringing this policy to his new job at EMU.

“It’s a huge honor for Casey,” Lauren said. “I think he would’ve been a head coach much sooner than now if the dynamic we have at JMU wasn’t so strong, but it’s something to be very proud of.”

Defensive specialist Zarah White was one of the players who were especially close to Casey. Many players, including herself, utilize the open-door policy often and have grown close relationships with the coaching staff. White, a junior, is one of the older team members on the roster, and she’s trained with the Steinbrecher duo for multiple seasons.

“A lot of the upperclassmen on the team were originally sad at first,” White said. “We were super happy for him becoming a head coach. We knew that the two were looking for more time to spend with their family. It definitely was hard to see him go, but we all were so excited for him.”

Now, with both Steinbrechers holding head coaching positions, the two have had a lifestyle change. The coaches balance being parents, coaching, working through a pandemic and adjusting to two head coaching jobs. Despite it all, they said they believe that the new schedule has helped their family grow closer together.

“We both just started training with our team,” Lauren said. “So the dynamic has definitely changed a little more. In some ways he’ll have a smaller workload than he would at JMU, but it’s now a completely different schedule instead. However, he’s been able to be with the kids to help with late nights and school, which has been really helpful.”

Casey’s been adjusting to the new position for nearly eight months now. Although there are limited practices and no games, the new Royals head coach has said he’s enjoying the change. He’s noticed that the responsibility of making decisions carries more weight now and that he found that head coaching has been an interesting change for him.

“The biggest change is that all the decisions are my fault now,” Casey said. “Before, I could recommend things to Lauren and it would be her decision, but now the role changed. It puts a little more pressure on me, but I don’t think I can really tell until we get to play.”

Making the change from a Division I program to a Division III program can be a challenge. There are multiple levels of change between the two, ranging from scholarships to an expanded roster. However, the work ethic is the same, which is a benefit for Casey. He’s worked to implement the same open-door policy and build early connections at EMU prior to a hopeful spring season.

Alongside Casey, EMU also has former JMU volleyball player Tilbe Yaglioglu as a graduate assistant. Yaglioglu played with the Steinbrechers as her coaches, so the connection helped Casey’s adjustment.

“She’s been great so far,” Casey said. “She’s making the transition from player to coach, so there’s some pieces of support that I had at JMU that aren’t there now. But she’s been able to help make it easier.”

For JMU, the volleyball team has introduced Charlie Condron as the newest assistant coach, and Travis Magorien has become the recruitment coordinator for the Dukes following the announcement. The ease of transition is prominent for the team and coaching staff, with the athletes growing new bonds with Condron during practices and meetings. 

“It’s been different in that Casey has had that long-term relationship with the athletes and experience in recruitment,” Lauren said. “Travis has been a great help showing Charlie the ropes — and they were teammates, which helps as well. However, we won’t really see many major changes outside of relationship building until the recruiting dead period ends and we get to play.”

Despite all the change the team’s endured since the beginning of 2020, the members kept their motivations and spirits high. The excitement for Casey when the announcement was made was clear, even with the sadness of losing a close coach. 

However, both Steinbrechers have been family oriented in all aspects they participate in. They’ve held dinners, laughed with the athletes and been there for everyone involved in the program.

“They’re very family-based with the team,” White said. “When we’re in practice, they’re very much our coaches, but outside of practice, we do a lot of stuff with them, even over the summer. We’ll do team activities together and dinners at their house and all these things to grow us closer together.”

JMU has intentions to hold fall sports in the spring, but EMU hasn’t made a decision. The NCAA has announced dates for DI fall sports championships but not DII or DIII. Regardless, the two head coaches have made their place at JMU. They’ve been great resources for their athletes, and now they’re able to expand themselves to two schools and programs, taking over collegiate volleyball in Harrisonburg.

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