HERMOSA BEACH, Calif. — Brooke Niles was 34 years outdated when she was employed as the top coach of the Florida State seaside volleyball group. It appeared younger to her then and, 9 years later, feels even youthful to Niles.
“I bamboozled them,” she mentioned on SANDCAST: Beach Volleyball with Tri Bourne and Travis Mewhirter. “Then it was lots of stress. We needed to get going.”
Which, in fact, introduced the query: The place do you go? She’d by no means coached a seaside program, apart from a membership in Lengthy Seashore with Matt and Pleasure Fuerbringer. She’d been an assistant for 3 years at Santa Barbara after ending a profitable profession as an outdoor hitter for the Gauchos. However to take over a seaside program nonetheless in its infancy, within the first 12 months the NCAA acknowledged it as a championship sport, with none household or mates in Tallahassee or any thought, actually, the way to take over a seaside program is a a lot completely different ask than to easily coach.
“After they employed me I used to be like ‘Oh my gosh, what do I do?’ I labored with Scott Davenport after I was taking part in and I knew how I favored to be coached, however I didn’t actually understand how this works,” she mentioned. “I drank from a hearth hose.”
She’s a quick learner, Niles. Even with a notable dearth in teaching expertise, she nonetheless completed her first season, in 2016, 32-3, CCSA champs and NCAA runners-up. That summer time, she was named the AVCA Coach of the 12 months.
Now, it’s not as if she took over a moribund program and turned it round in a single day. Florida State had already developed a status as a perennial contender; its worst season previous to Niles’ arrival was 13-6, in 2015. However Niles didn’t merely settle for an honest program and hold all the pieces the identical, afraid to repair one thing that wasn’t actually broke. Her model, her aggressive nature, her emphasis on power and conditioning and health know-how to maintain the athletes in peak situation whereas sustaining well being all through the season, turned foundations of this system.
As knowledgeable participant, Niles amassed greater than $300,000 in prize cash. She knew the optimistic advantages of weight lifting earlier than and, maybe extra vital, all through the season. There was some preliminary pushback from a lot of her gamers, questioning why they needed to carry weights through the center of spring once they have been taking part in tournaments with a number of matches most weekend, on prime of bus rides or flights.
“They weren’t actually massive on it,” she mentioned. However then, because the season progressed, they might really feel themselves getting stronger, not weaker. Niggling aches and pains in shoulders, knees, backs — nuisances to most each volleyball participant as a season goes on — weren’t as limiting as they as soon as would have been. That they had the power not solely to complete the season as robust as they started, however to complete it on a peak for CCSA and NCAA Championships.
“I’ve at all times checked out it as, we need to peak the final two weeks. It’s exhausting to peak for 2 weeks,” Niles mentioned. “We need to carry out nicely at convention to have momentum going into NCAAs. We prepare with our lifting and our conditioning and our practices as that’s what we’re working in the direction of. Originally of the 12 months, we will nonetheless compete with anyone if we’re sore and drained. We need to be wholesome, and we use lots of know-how.”
Niles, and Florida State as an entire, has lengthy been an advocate for WHOOP, a wearable in your wrist that tracks coronary heart price, coronary heart price variability, sleep, pressure, and restoration. When she was taking part in professionally, dwelling in Santa Barbara, she’d carry at a fitness center referred to as P3, the place Marcus Elliott, the primary MLB Director of Sports activities Science, trains a lot of high-profile athletes resembling Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic, amongst others. Even then, within the early 2000s, P3 was on the leading edge, utilizing pressure plates and different tools that measure pressure and explosiveness.
“P3 has shaped lots of what we’re attempting to do at Florida State,” she mentioned. Drive plates are used often, and she or he additionally has her gamers carrying units designed by Kinexon, a German-based sports activities analytics firm which the AVP used on stadium courtroom in 2022. The units, which strap simply onto board shorts or bikini bottoms, measure load, jumps, and the way excessive a participant is leaping, amongst different metrics. Nothing is full-proof, in fact, and accidents are inevitable, however Niles has left no stone unturned on the subject of conserving her gamers in peak situation.
It’s exhausting to argue, too, given her success. In eight years on the helm, Niles has by no means as soon as missed an NCAA Championship. In that span, the Noles have completed runners-up twice, successful a mean of 82 p.c of their matches. Previous to this season, that they had gained six straight CCSA championships (there wasn’t a championship in 2020 throughout COVID).
“We’ve carried out nicely. I’m happy with the issues we’ve carried out however it’s tremendous exhausting yearly,” Niles mentioned. “Individuals who look from the skin in suppose it’s simple, these applications who’ve carried out tremendous nicely, however it’s truly by no means.”
It’s exhausting, what Niles calls for of her athletes, as a result of it’s exhausting what Niles calls for of herself and her program: An NCAA Championship. No East Area group has ever gained a nationwide title in seaside volleyball. Lengthy Seashore State, Pepperdine, UCLA, and USC have lengthy dominated the game, significantly the latter two. For eight years, Niles has been working at altering that establishment, and she or he’s practically been there. To take that further step, a step no group outdoors of Southern California has carried out, she is aware of it isn’t only a system she’s created that may do it, however to recruit the proper athletes who will embrace that system. Florida State isn’t for the faint of coronary heart.
“It is a group we need to be close-knit and like a household. My household simply bonded by exhausting issues. My dad would make us race across the block and do sand dunes,” she mentioned. “We do that conditioning take a look at that may be a pillar of our program and it’s actually exhausting they usually don’t look ahead to it however once they accomplish it they really feel like they’ve carried out one thing they didn’t suppose they might do. It provides psychological toughness. From the inside-out, we simply need to be a household that works exhausting. It’s not for everyone, however I believe it’s been profitable and it offers these younger ladies confidence entering into and attempting to play skilled.”
It’s the gritty ones who make the minimize, the gamers like Alaina Chacon and Molly McBain, undersized dynamos who as soon as performed collectively on courtroom one and at the moment are successful AVP Tour Sequence occasions and taking part in on the highest stage on the Seashore Professional Tour, respectively. It’s gamers like Brook Bauer and Katie Horton and Maddie Anderson and Macy Jerger, all of whom at the moment are having fun with success as professionals, embracing the low-paying grind of the AVP with a sandy smile, which might be the key sauce of the Florida State program — gamers who see a tough activity and gravitate in the direction of it quite than side-step round it.
“FSU has these unbelievable athletes who’re attempting to be skilled. So you’ve this gradual tempo, small city really feel, and then you definitely get into this college and also you get into the burden room and also you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, that man goes to be within the NFL, that man goes to the NBA, this lady was simply within the Olympics.’ It’s simply loopy,” Niles mentioned. “It motivates me to be higher.”
There may be however one field Niles and Florida State have left to verify: a nationwide championship. She’s employed one of the best assistant to assist the Noles get there, too: Nick Lucena, her two-time Olympian husband who has rapidly developed a knack for teaching.
“He’s such a superb coach. Once I employed him, everybody was like ‘Ah, you employed your husband.’ And I mentioned ‘No, I employed one of the best coach.’ He actually is,” Niles mentioned. “His resume speaks for itself and he has a manner of connecting with athletes. He’s an incredible instructor. And he’s by no means carried out it, that is his first 12 months teaching, actually, it’s all pure. It’s actually cool.
“We haven’t gained but,” she continued, “and that’s a sticking level that lots of people discuss that each championship has been from the West Coast however I simply really feel like we’re doing lots of good issues and it’s sure to occur. It’s all I take into consideration, it’s all Nick thinks about, however it’s not what we outline ourselves by.”
How they outline themselves is a little more ambiguous than the target measurement of a championship or not. They’re only a household who works exhausting, bonded by sand dunes and weights and conditioning assessments which may simply make you puke. That’s adequate for them.
Quickly sufficient, it’ll be adequate for an NCAA Championship, too.