Looking at Elon University volleyball, observers will see a wealth of volleyball experience among the coaching staff. Mary Tendler is in her ninth season as head coach. New assistant coach Jennifer Fry, prior to coaching at Elon, was the head coach at Norfolk State University and an assistant coach at Washington State University. Fellow assistant coach Tina Readling was a volunteer assistant coach at Elon when the women won the Southern Conference North Division championship in 2010.
Joining them is student assistant coach Will Llamas, a junior marketing major from Connecticut who has been playing volleyball since high school and is in his third year as an assistant coach for the team. Llamas came to Elon thinking he would not have the opportunity to play competitive volleyball because Elon does not have a men’s team, so he emailed Tendler with an idea.
“I contacted the coach to see if she would be interested in someone like me,” he said. “She had to make sure I was able to keep up with these girls because they’ve been playing all their lives. She kind of threw me in the first day of practice, and I did pretty well and so they started respecting me and it’s a mutual respect.”
Respect is something Llamas said he knew he needed to earn right away if he really wanted a chance to be a part of the team.
“All of these girls have been playing longer than me,” he said. “But while they may know more than me, they can’t see themselves play, so an extra set of eyes helps them get better.”
He also said he sees himself as a kind of middleman between the coaches and players. While the coaches see him as a coach, he is still a college student. The players see him as both a friend and a coach.
Senior Carly Ledbetter has played with Llamas as an assistant coach for three of her four years in uniform.
“He’s younger than me and the other seniors, but he is very professional,” she said. “When he first came in we were all around the same age, so it was hard for him to step in and correct us, but we go to him for a lot of things like our passing and hitting. We look to him as a very important leader on the team and as a coach. We are all friends but we are all serious about volleyball.”
Llamas is not the first student assistant coach, but he has stayed with the team the longest. Now, going into his third year, he will take on the extra role of scouting other teams before games.
His other duties include running drills in practice and even playing positions during practice if players are injured. He also videotapes matches and edits the videos so the players and coaches can watch the games later.
Tendler has seen the impact Llamas has had on the team, and she said she hopes to continue having a student assistant coach even after he graduates.
“He’s volunteering so he’s not getting any money, but I think he enjoys the time with the team and traveling,” she said. “He is really just part of the team like anybody else. So when he leaves, we are definitely going to have to fill the void, but he will definitely be hard to replace.”
Along with assistant coaching, Llamas is president of the men’s club volleyball team and president of the club sports council. So while he came in thinking he would not be able to play much, he sometimes plays five hours a day. But he said he would not have it any other way and is very appreciative of the opportunity to work with the team.
“I just want to thank the coaches because they’ve really helped me get better as a player and a coach,” said Llamas. “Every girl brings something different to the table. It’s a fun team to be around, whether on the court or off. I’m excited for the season and I hope to see as many people at the home games because this team is something special.”