JMU volleyball made history once again as head coach Lauren Steinbrecher surpassed Disa Garner on Sept. 7 as the winningest coach in JMU volleyball history. Steinbrecher reached the monumental achievement nine games into her ninth season, surpassing her predecessor Garner, who took 10 seasons to reach the same mark.
“She’s always striving for greatness,” junior outside hitter Briley Brind’Amour said. “She knows how hard we go and is always making sure we’re at that level.”
In her first eight years at the helm of JMU volleyball, Steinbrecher’s record was 151-91. The Dukes have excelled in recent seasons and are coming off three straight 20-plus win seasons and back-to-back CAA titles for the first time since 1998-99.
“Every team is unique and has its own identity,” Steinbrecher said. “We have a lot of key returners from last year. There’s a lot of similarities, but there’s also a different feel [with this team].”
Steinbrecher can be described as a player’s coach, as she puts her student athletes first and even made the effort to wish a player a good weekend in between answering questions. Like all good coaches, she recognizes players as people, not just athletes, resulting in a strong bond that leads to on-court chemistry.
In the summer of 2017, the team took a trip to ACE Adventure Resort in West Virginia. It’s common for JMU volleyball to take a trip each offseason to bond and build chemistry, but what happened on this trip won’t be soon forgotten by the players or Steinbrecher.
“One of the rules when we were going ziplining is ‘Don’t jump off the platform,’” junior middle blocker M’Kaela White said. “Lauren goes first and jumps off the longest zipline and gets stuck in the middle.”
White explained that Steinbrecher was pregnant at the time, and the only other person who knew was Casey Steinbrecher, Lauren’s husband and assistant coach. White and Brind’Amour estimated Steinbrecher was suspended about 50 feet in the air for around 10 minutes. Seeing his wife suspended in the air, Casey began to freak out in front of White and her teammates.
“No one else cared except for Casey,” White said in between laughs. “We were like ‘Oh, she’ll be fine.’ We didn’t know she was carrying a child.”
Steinbrecher’s willingness to take risks and go out of her comfort zone leads to a team culture where no one’s afraid of failure or trying new things on the court. She’s someone who loves winning and pushes each team member by creating a practice environment where teammates encourage each other to grow.
“I’d definitely have to say [her greatest leadership quality] is competitiveness,” White said. “I always wonder what it was like to be playing with Lauren when she was in college because she’s such a competitive coach and sees the best in us.”
Of her many strengths as a leader, humility may be Steinbrecher’s greatest. When asked what she does best, the all-time wins leader in program history was quick to deflect praise from her to assistant coaches and players.
“[My greatest strength is] collaborating or being able to use all the resources that we have,” Steinbrecher said. “Whether it’s incredible assistant coaches or just the players themselves, everyone contributes, and the machine runs itself.”
Steinbrecher was named one of the “30 best coaches in the country under the age of 30” in 2009 by the American Volleyball Coaches Association after three seasons as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of Kentucky. She’s excelled in her time at JMU and has led the Dukes to at least the conference semifinals in seven of the past eight seasons.
“I’d say [I’m most proud of] either one of the championships in 2016 or 2017,” Steinbrecher said. “The girls worked so hard … maybe ’16 has an upper edge because it was the first one and we talk about it so much. So many different people put in so much work for it, no one can ever take that away from them.”
Steinbrecher has won games and championships while changing both lives and the JMU volleyball program forever. Like those CAA titles she referenced, what Steinbrecher has accomplished, no one can take away.
Contact James Faris at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more volleyball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.