NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The walk from a locker room after a loss can be a lonely one for any coach. But for Lipscomb assistant volleyball coach Samantha Sullivan her walk down the corridor of Reed Arena after the Lady Bisons NCAA first round loss to Texas A&M was a walk filled with tears.
“It has hit me for the past few months,” Sullivan said between the tears. “I walked out of that locker room and realized that was possibly the last chance I will ever coach at the collegiate level.”
Wednesday was Sullivan’s final day as an assistant coach for the Lady Bisons. She is returning to her home state of California where she will prepare for her May wedding to Kevin Crane.
Sullivan came to the Lipscomb program as a junior college transfer from Pierce College in California for the 2005 season. From her first day on the court she demonstrated she was not shy about expressing her opinion to Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal.
“Samantha understands the game,” Rosenthal said. “I won’t say that her relationship with me in her first year here was rocky, but she didn’t necessarily know where I was coming from and I didn’t know where she was coming from.
“We weren’t butting heads, but at times we weren’t moving forward like I thought we would. But what intrigued me about her was that tenacity. She wanted to get better and better.”
Some of the discussions between the two were loud and long during her seven years working with the program.
“My immediate response was almost always, `no, you are wrong’ and then we would argue,” Rosenthal said. “She would tell me that I was wrong, and then she would tell me why.
“We really didn’t hold back on what we wanted to say. That’s how we were. That’s how we communicated. At the end of the day we both laid it on the line and we did it that way because I have always asked for it to be that way.”
Sullivan has packed up her personal items, but the most important thing she will take away won’t fit in her luggage. She, like the other members of the team, has a shirt with “LUV” on the front. But the meaning behind the letters is what she is taking away. "LUV" stands for Lipscomb University Volleyball but actually it stands for much more.
“It’s all about `LUV’,” Sullivan said. “It is all about love. It is a family. And I couldn’t have done it without that.
“We are here for each other. A lot of programs say they are a family, but they are not. Everyone here as everybody else’s back and it is not just this team, but the whole school. That’s why I am so emotional because I am leaving a place like this.”
As much as she hates to leave, she knows it is time to go not only from a personal level but for the progression of the program.
“In reality, I probably could have stayed,” Sullivan said. “But I didn’t want to do that to Brandon. I know the program from the bottom to the top. But I think that it is time for him to get some new ideas.
“I think it is important that he gets someone in here that enjoys recruiting. It was something I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like being gone every single and being away from my family.”
Rosenthal has been there as Sullivan made the transition from player to graduate assistant and then to assistant coach. He admits that the adjustment to being a full-time assistant was an adjustment for Sullivan.
“She had a great rapport with the players so it made sense to hire her full-time,” Rosenthal said. “She was such close friends with players like Jake Pease and Alex Kelly. I told Samantha she was going to have to separate herself a bit and she did that without hurting those relationships.
“From top to bottom I expect the absolute best. I expect everyone involved in this program to be all in. At the end of the day I knew that Sam wanted the same thing from the program. It was tough at times because we were both pushing and pushing.”
Rosenthal credits Sullivan with helping him to become a better coach, especially in dealing with a team this season that he admits he still doesn’t fully understand.
“Sam did a great job of really challenging me,” Rosenthal said. “She knew how to be a buffer between me and the team. She challenged me to be a calmer coach. There were times when she flat out told me I was going about things wrong and that is hard to hear.
“Sam spoke her mind. I listened to what she had to say. I have a tremendous trust in her. Look at the championships we have won and where we have been. She has been part of all of that. She has been one of the common denominators in all of that. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”
Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.