Jan. 16, 2018
By Brad Muller | More Features
As a former All-American student-athlete, South Carolina’s new head volleyball coach Tom Mendoza understands the importance of the student-athlete experience, and that’s what led him into coaching as a career.
“I originally got into it to try to pay it forward a little bit,” Mendoza said. “I felt like I had a great experience, and I wanted to pay that forward to younger players so they could have a similar experience. You just get hooked on it when you’re used to a competitive lifestyle as a student-athlete. You have to learn how to prepare them and impact them so that when they’re on that stage, they’re ready for it. For me as a coach, you’re constantly at work, but you rarely feel like you’re working.”
While he enjoys all areas of his job, among his favorite aspects of being a coach is the development of players, in addition to recruiting, which starts very early.
“This is one of the few jobs where you get to choose who you work with,” Mendoza said. “Recruiting young student-athletes is happening earlier and earlier in such formative times in their lives. You see something in a young student-athlete that you think is special and it may have not surfaced yet, but you think it’s in there. Then you see them develop when they’re in their early 20s into the adults they’re going to be, and that translates on the court.
“The bigger part right now is developing the ones who have already committed here. I may not have recruited all of them, but they love the University and this is where they wanted to be, so they’re still my kids. We’re trying to coach them up and help them reach their potential.”
They want to be successful on a national stage. They, like me, believe that South Carolina is the place to do that.
Mendoza is no stranger to team success and helping student-athletes reach their potential. He spent the last two years as the head coach at High Point University in North Carolina, where he led the Panthers to 47 wins and back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. Prior to that, he spent six years as an assistant and associate head coach at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., where his recruiting efforts and on-court coaching helped the program win 20 or more matches five times, with five conference titles, and five NCAA Tournament bids. A strong work ethic is one of the keys to his success.
“I used to play golf, but once I became a head coach, that time disappeared,” Mendoza laughed. “It’s a 24/7 job.”
Mendoza had a conference call set up with his South Carolina student-athletes, who were home on holiday break, to allow them to ask questions and get to know their new coach a little bit before the news of his hiring officially broke.
“It was a chance for them to be the first to hear about the news because this is about them and their experience,” Mendoza said. “It was a chance to introduce myself and some of my principles and things that I value in a program.
“They’re hungry. They want to be great. They want to be successful on a national stage. They, like me, believe that South Carolina is the place to do that. We all want the same thing.”
Mendoza knows that competition in the SEC will be great, but he is accustomed to success, evidenced not only by his win-loss record, but by guiding his High Point teams to victory over “Power Five” conference foes such as Oklahoma, Georgia, and Wake Forest.
“It’s a bigger stage (at South Carolina),” Mendoza said. “You see in all of the other sports how the conference prepares you on a daily basis to compete on a national stage. We don’t need to be perfect and run the table, but we need to be more competitive.”
While he expects to win, he has a reason for not always setting specific goals, especially in year one.
“You have to be careful about what your goals are because you don’t want to shortchange yourself on what you can achieve,” Mendoza said. “Sometimes you think it’s a long-term goal, and then it happens and you have to recalibrate. You try to put a process in place that gives your student-athletes an opportunity to be successful. You just have to trust them to go out and compete. They want to compete at the best level. That’s why they came here.
“You set up a schedule that will challenge your student-athletes, then you prepare them, provide the structure that they need, then you put them in the situation where they need to go out and compete. When you’re at program like that, it all comes down to the essentials in preparedness and what resources you need. Coming to a program like the University of South Carolina, you can’t lose sight of those principles for success.”
As the Chicago area native and his wife, Megan, who will serve as the program’s director of operations after holding the same position at High Point, settle in to Columbia, Mendoza is anxious to get his boxes unpacked and get started in making a difference for the volleyball program and the student-athletes.
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