Monday, October 5, 2015

Family Matters: Linda Hampton-Keith

Coaching while Pregnant and Changing Jobs

By Kinda Lenberg, AVCA Contributor

The New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health recently ranked life’s most stressful events on a scale of 1-10.  In addition to things like the death of a spouse, trouble with your in-laws (which is, apparently, just as stressful as taking out a mortgage) and being sentenced to jail, Nos. 5 and 7, respectively, are pregnancy and changing jobs.

Perhaps someone should have emailed a copy of this guide to Linda Hampton-Keith, associate head women’s volleyball coach at Arizona State University.  She decided it would be a good idea to take on stressors No. 5 and No. 7 at the same time. 
Surprisingly enough, it worked out great!

Hampton-Keith, who has been at ASU since February 2011, has always wanted a collegiate head coaching position.  She began her coaching career at the prep level at P.K. Yonge High School in Gainesville, Fla.  She then moved on to be an assistant at Texas Christian University from 2005-10. 

“It’s no secret that anyone who knows me knows that eventually I would love to be a head coach,” Hampton-Keith states.  “At the same time, I am really happy where I am (at ASU).”

Courtesy ASU Volleyball

And, as usual, opportunity tends to knock at the most “inopportune” moment, and Hampton-Keith decided to interview for a head coaching position in December 2014.  The ASU season was over; it was time to take on a new challenge and perhaps fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a collegiate head coach.

The kicker is, she was well into her third trimester of her first-ever pregnancy.  That means no flying, as most airlines are unwilling to “welcome aboard” a woman who is more than 28 weeks pregnant because of the risk of premature labor. 

The result?  Thanks to the nearly 140-year-old technology of the telephone, as well as the 12-year-old technology of SkypeTM, Hampton-Keith was able to conduct the interview remotely, starting in December and running through January.

“I told myself I have to at least interview, to see where it takes me,” she says.  “So I actually interviewed for one position; I had two interviews in December.  I had gotten through the initial phone interview and instead of doing an on-campus one after they invited me for a second interview, [it was done via] SkypeTM.”

In fact, Hampton-Keith ended up interviewing for a couple of head coaching positions in January.  Then, she and her husband, Maark, welcomed baby Yaeli in mid-January 2015.  Hampton-Keith had yet another interview for a head coaching position when Yaeli was only two or three weeks old, and the institution was very accommodating. 

“They got me in and out in one day because I [expressed my concern] I was breastfeeding.  But I ended up getting stuck in a snowstorm and that was tough, but we made it through.  My advice is to expect the unexpected!  You think that you have no control over situations and you go ahead and do the best you can and then you come home and pick up where you left off.

And she has.

“I interviewed for those [head coaching] positions and I ended up either not being offered or not accepting them.  I really just love where I’m at and what we’re doing here [at ASU].  To be quite honest, I had a lot of anxiety regarding how [having a baby] was going to work.”

Indeed, having little control over a situation is definitely not where Hampton-Keith wanted to be, so while interviewing for the head coaching positions at the beginning of this year, she had a well-laid plan in place.  She knew going into the interviews that she had to have a timeline for how everything would work with the new baby – especially since she was going to be a first-time mom.  Of course, as all mothers know – and Hampton-Keith now does, as well – babies don’t really adhere to timelines, and that is where flexibility comes in. 

And Hampton-Keith says, that has also made her a better coach.

Courtesy ASU Volleyball

“I think the main thing is just being more flexible and being able to ‘roll with it’ a little bit more.  That has really helped me to be a better coach because this is the same thing with coaching – and even recruiting, to a certain extent.  I think as coaches we try to control a lot of things, and a lot of variables are outside of our control.”

According to Hampton-Keith, one of the major things that helps her keep her “new” family life balanced with her “old” coaching career, is surrounding yourself with friends and family who are willing to help.  You have to know how you will react and go with the flow.

“If I have any advice to give at all, you’ve got to know yourself and you’ve got to know the people that you are surrounding yourself with.  You have to know your priorities.  When you are looking for jobs or you are looking for other opportunities, you must surround yourself with the right people who are going to help you be the best that you can be.

“And if you are a mom or not a mom, either way you have to know the people that are around you because that is going to be your support.  And if they are not supportive, then you are just going to be fighting a bunch of battles that you don’t need to be fighting.  I am incredibly fortunate.  Maark and I are here (in Tempe) and we don’t have family close by, so we are kind of doing this on our own, but our staff and team are wonderful and very supportive and so they are our family while we are here.”

In other words, make use of your friends, colleagues and even your players!

“I have been coaching almost 15 years without a child and so I have no idea what it looks [or feels] like.  Luckily, I have made a lot of friends and know a lot of other women in the profession whom I really look up to.  I even made some phone calls to ask questions about how the [career-family dynamic] works.”

Over and over, the answer was to take it day by day; basically you have to figure it out as you go.

“And for me, it is kind of anxiety-causing,” Hampton-Keith explains.

Fortunately, now that she is in the middle of the ASU women’s volleyball season, the balancing act has gotten much easier.  In fact, Yaeli will begin to make her first road trips next month.

“My husband, Maark, and Yaeli are going to go on a couple of road trips coming up in October.”

As far as Yaeli’s care on a daily basis, Hampton-Keith says every day looks a little bit different.

“There are some days she stays home with dad, and some days I take her with me [to the gym].  Then I hire one of our former student-athletes who is in grad school now and is available [to babysit].  Everyone is always willing to help and is more than happy to hold Yaeli while I am talking to somebody [or doing other things].

“I am really fortunate because the environment that our staff and team have is very conducive to [having a little one around].  My head coach (Jason Watson) is amazingly supportive.  It is just a great atmosphere to be able to know that you are supported and it is not a problem.  There are days where I bring her to [the gym] and I just put her in the baby carrier and wear it during practice.”

To be sure, Hampton-Keith and her husband, Maark, have definitely felt the excitement – and stress – of adding a new little one to the family.  The No. 10 stressor on the New Harvard Guide to Women’s Health list is taking a vacation.  Maybe after the women’s volleyball season ends in December, they might try taking on that one.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Deb's Top-5 Matches: A B1G Time Showdown

by Debbie Kniffin

One of these matches takes place tonight. As in Wednesday, September 30, 2015. So don’t wait to read this preview. Unless you want to do that instant-historian thing where you watch the match, then come back and point out all the holes in my logic. That works too, so long as it gets you talking about volleyball.

Don’t forget to submit a match for me to preview by next Sunday. Tweet your pick @AVCAVolleyball and hash tag #DebsTop5. This week’s fan pick features a clash of the titans as No. 1 Penn State takes on No. 4 Nebraska. Grab the popcorn. It’ll be epic.

No.  23 Michigan vs. RV Michigan State
Wednesday, September 30 and Saturday, October 3

Record: 11-2 overall, 1-1 Big 10
Streak: W1
Last outing: lost to Purdue (0-3), defeated Indiana (3-1)

Potential weakness: serving aggressively and slowing down offenses with their block
Perceived strengths: every time Abby Cole (Jr., MH) touches the ball
Game changers: the dominant attacking and blocking of Cole

Michigan State
Record: 9-4 overall, 1-1 Big 10
Last outing: defeated Indiana (3-0), lost to Purdue (3-1)

Potential weakness: serving for points and playing strong back row defense
Perceived strengths: slowing down opponents with their block
Game changers: the could-be-scary offense of Brooke Kranda (RS So., MH/OPP)

Michigan Athletics

Michigan and Michigan State both defeated Indiana and fell to Purdue last weekend. Defense is a weakness for both these squads—Michigan at the net and Michigan State in the back row—and it can sometimes affect their offensive performance. Both teams have a nice selection of efficient hitters when they’re able to set them. For example: the Wolverines normally rely on standout Cole, who was quiet against Purdue due to poor passing and defense. And Michigan State has a slew of arms waiting to click, but their back row doesn’t give them a ton of opportunity to find their rhythm. What does all this mean? This match comes down to serve-and-pass and performance in long rallies. Whichever team can put the ball near target, stay low-error and grind out long rallies should take the cake. Michigan holds the slight advantage based on back-row play.

My Pick: Michigan in three (round 1), Michigan State in five (round 2)

No. 1 Penn State vs. No. 4 Nebraska (FAN PICK)
Friday, October 2

Penn State
Record: 13-0 overall, 2-0 Big 10
Streak: W13
Last outing: defeated Wisconsin (3-0) and Minnesota (3-2)

Potential weakness: getting rattled and struggling to find offensive rhythm
Perceived strengths: using four big-time hitters in their offensive system
Game changers: the never-mess-up play of Haleigh Washington (So., MH)

Record: 11-1 overall, 2-1 Big 10
Last outing: defeated Iowa in back-to-back matches (3-0)

Potential weakness: staying low-error at the service line
Perceived strengths: blocking for points and running an efficient offense
Game changers: the relentless defensive pursuit of Justine Wong-Orantes (Jr., DS)

The Nittany Lions found themselves in their first extra-sets match of the season against a sporadically good Minnesota squad. In the two sets they lost, Penn State couldn’t find their offensive rhythm and posted .000 and .139 hitting efficiencies. They looked unnerved, clumsy and scared but got over it by the fifth set. Nebraska could force Penn State into a similar situation with their offense-thwarting blocks and get-in-your-head defense. This match will be all about getting into a rhythm, making the serve-and-pass game vitally important. Serving edge: Penn State. Passing edge: Nebraska. But when you take into account the bounce-back factor—that key skill of having a short memory and getting over things quickly—Penn State is on another level. They’re a team full of Dory’s (just keep swimming). Dory wins. 

Haleigh Washington/PSU Athletics

My Pick: Penn State in five

No. 24 Long Beach State @ Cal Poly
Friday, October 2

Long Beach State
Record: 12-3 overall, 2-0 Big West
Streak: W3
Last outing: defeated UC Davis (3-0) and UC Irvine (3-1)

Potential weakness: blocking and defending at a high level
Perceived strengths: running a smooth offense
Game changers: the stud-like offense of transfer Nele Barber (Jr., OH)

LBSU Head Coach Brian Gimmillaro/LBSU Athletics

Cal Poly
Record: 8-4 overall, 0-1 Big West
Last outing: lost to Loyola Marymount (0-3) and Hawaii (0-3)

Potential weakness: letting errors snowball and making smart shots under pressure
Perceived strengths: keeping balls alive in the back row
Game changers: the stabilizing offense of Raeann Greisen (So., OH)

Cal Poly has a loose cannon in Adlee Van Winden (Fr., OH). She’s on pace to break single-season kills records and carries most of the offensive load, but posts a dismal .184 hitting efficiency.  Cal Poly’s other hitters stabilize the collective offensive performance, and I have to wonder if getting them more looks would help Van Winden hit her stride. It’s worth a try against Long Beach State as the 49ers play pretty average defense and may be thrown off by a distributed offense. Even if Cal Poly throws a few curve balls and disrupts the 49er’s defense, they’ll still have no answer for Barber’s offensive prowess. She takes almost every swing for the 49ers and hits .382.

My Pick: Long Beach State in four

Louisville vs. Syracuse
Friday, October 2

Record: 8-4 overall, 2-0 ACC
Streak: W2
Last outing: defeated Notre Dame (3-0) and Miami Florida (3-1)

Potential weakness: contributing defensively at net
Perceived strengths: scoring from the pins and serving tough
Game changers: the team-carrying offense of Erin Fairs (Sr., OH)

Record: 11-2 overall, 2-0 ACC
Last outing:
defeated Boston College (3-1) and Clemson (3-1)

Potential weakness: staying in long rallies due to sometimes-sloppy back court play
Perceived strengths: using middles to block for points
Game changers: the craft performance of veterans Silvi Uattara (Sr., OH) and Monika Salkute (Sr., OH)

Syracuse Athletics


Earlier this season, Syracuse showed glimpses of their potential as they pushed ranked Arizona and Ohio State to four sets. Syracuse can falter when pushed to long rallies as their back row isn’t great at scooping up junk—at least not consistently.  Lucky for them, Louisville isn’t particularly great in that category either, making the serve/pass and first-ball-side-out games super important in this matchup. Louisville runs a pretty traditional offense—lot of sets to the pins, middles has a few good hitters, the most influential being hot-and-cold kills leader Fairs. When she’s cold, she’s good. When she’s hot, watch out.  Blocking tips the scale in the Orange’s favor. 

My Pick: Syracuse in five

No. 15 BYU vs. RV San Diego

Friday, October 2

Record: 12-2 overall, 2-1 West Coast
Streak: WI
Last outing: lost to Santa Clara (1-3), defeated LMU (3-1)

Potential weakness: allowing teams to rattle off consecutive points
Perceived strengths: scoring points efficiently from the service line and on offense
Game changers: the monster blocking of Whitney Howard (Jr., MH) and Amy Boswell (Jr., MH)

BYU Photo

San Diego
Record: 8-5 overall, 2-0 West Coast
Last outing: defeated Santa Clara (3-1), San Francisco (3-0) and Pepperdine (3-2)

Potential weakness: making smart shots and staying low-error on offense
Perceived strengths: playing super-scrappy defense
Game changers: the distributed setting of current starter Kriste Gengenbacher (So., S)

San Diego dropped out of the top-25 rankings after falling to an unranked UC Irvine squad. The Toreros buckled down and took care of business in their first conference matches, and will push to re-enter the top-25 with an upset of BYU. They’ll need to set lots of balls to stud hitter Lisa Kramer (RS Jr., MH), which also means incredible defense and serve receive. This will keep other hitters available and able to swing away. BYU will likely slow them down with their ridiculous blocking and lights-out serving. They’ve also got some heavy hitting of their own with Alexa Gray (Sr., OH), who can absolutely take over matches.

My Pick: BYU in four