Head coach Jen Salmon up for volleyball challenges

Since graduating from Ithaca College in 2002, Geneseo volleyball head coach Jen Salmon intended on pursuing her love for the sport through coaching. “I knew that it was definitely something I was interested in and I couldn’t imagine life without volleyball, really, that was the motivation,” she said.

She found her first coaching gig at Nazareth College where she received a paid internship through the NCAA to work with student-athlete welfare and coach for the Golden Flyers. She later held assistant coach positions at the University of Rochester and Cornell University.

The Brockport, N.Y. native eventually found her way to Geneseo, an area that she loves. The sixth-year coach, who is celebrating her fifth year of competition, has been challenged from the get-go in her current post.

Salmon succeeded Bouaketh Chanthavisouk, who served as head coach for two years. But Chanthavisouk left the Geneseo program “in shambles,” according to Salmon. The student-athletes weren’t invested, and about half of the team didn’t want to return for her inaugural year, she said.

“They had lost the passion and love for the game, so coming in, that was my number one priority,” Salmon said.

More recent challenges included losing nearly the entire 2012 season due to a hazing incident. Salmon had to rebuild the program this year with all first-year players. Uncertainty and inconsistency has plagued the young team of many freshmen and a handful of returning members who hadn’t played more than four games during their Geneseo careers prior to this season.

Salmon has never been part of a program as either an assistant coach or head coach that experienced this type of situation before. So she’s alone, without mentors who can offer any ideas, recommendations or guidance.

“That has been challenging, but I see it as a good challenge,” Salmon said. “I feel like to overcome the year that we did last year, with losing all of the girls we did, recruiting a very talented class of first-years, having a full roster after not having a season and not having a year of volleyball at Geneseo, I couldn’t be happier with where we are right now.”

Salmon can refer to some of her own knowledge that she gained from obtaining a master’s degree in sports psychology from Ithaca. She said she especially applies it to understand individual student-athletes’ ways for motivation as well as communication and mental training.

While she doesn’t teach or work with teams as a part-time job, she conducts some training and activities with the Knights. She recognizes, though, that it is difficult to act as both the team’s coach and sports psychologist.

Nonetheless, something must be working for Salmon and the Knights, who are showing improvement. Although Geneseo went 1-2 in its first weekend of SUNYAC pool play, Salmon saw a glimpse of the consistency that the team has been aiming for since day one. The Knights fell to Buffalo State College and SUNY New Paltz, both of whom went undefeated in the same weekend.

Looking forward, Salmon isn’t allowing the challenges to restrict her or the Knights. Their eyes remain on a SUNYAC championship.

“I feel like it has the ability of getting there,” she said. “It’s taking a little bit longer than I anticipated, but I feel like we’re so much farther ahead than where we were two years ago.”