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Volleyball coach focused on program growth

Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Updated: Thursday, June 25, 2009 13:06

vball

Ashley Inguanta

This is part three of a series profiling UCF head coaches.

Todd Dagenais doesn't know too much about running a country.

The UCF Volleyball head coach is more of a builder. He knows how to lay the foundation, place the bricks and mold them together.

He's aided in building programs before as an assistant coach at both USC and Michigan State, but he's finally the man in charge at UCF.

"What we are is we are like a fledgling country," said Dagenais, who spent eight seasons as an assistant at both USC and Michigan State before coming to UCF last season. "We just adopted our constitution. We have our government. Now it's time to start standing on our own, and I really think that's the next step."

That next step would have been an afterthought had Dagenais not led the 2008 UCF Volleyball team to one of its best seasons in half a decade in his first year as head coach.

He finished the season having led the Knights to a 15-17 record, the largest win total since 2003, and tied for the most wins in program history in Conference USA play with six.

The Knights jumped from No. 244 to No. 113 in the NCAA Women's Volleyball RPI rankings from the start of the season to the end.

"On paper, it was a losing record, and we weren't in the top 100," Dagenais said. "There were so many things that were unfulfilling, but literally hours after going through those emotions, you go wait, we started at 244 and ended at 113."

It was a historic jump for Dagenais' squad. One of the best in NCAA Volleyball history.

"People say hey, your movement is one of the top 25 movements of all time in NCAA volleyball," Dagenais said. "Wow, that's a pretty big deal. Somebody else says, well the movement is one of the top five all time for a first year coaching staff."

In building anything, there is going to be successes and setbacks. Dagenais' task is no different, but he does regret one thing: overlooking the present for the future.

"I never prepared the team to have success." Dagenais said of his team's early accomplishments last season. "You know, you prepare the team to have a foundation for success, and we did that. Then all of the sudden we find ourselves 5-1 in conference and playing UAB in first place. I didn't prepare them for that moment, and maybe my fault is that I didn't think that we were going to need to.

"I was more concerned with making sure we had a good foundation for three years, that when we had success in the first year, I didn't teach them a good job of how to handle that success."

But with any successful country you need to assemble the right pieces together to keep it running smoothly. For Dagenais, that's recruiting the right athletes for his system.

This offseason, Dagenais nabbed four players who could take this program to the next level.

He announced the signing of Angelica Crump, Victoria McCutcheon and Nichole Riedel and also welcomed transfer Brittany Wallace.

There's one common connection between those four players — they are all big, athletic and exactly what Dagenais needs to have his team compete in one of the top conferences in the nation.

"For us to compete in Conference USA, especially against the top teams, who are loaded with very high caliber foreign players, we had to get bigger, stronger and more athletic … so we have got some really nice athletes coming in," Dagenais said.

To build this program into a powerhouse, Dagenais knows that preparation is not just for the upcoming year. He is already recruiting for years down the road.

"We are recruiting the 2010s, 2011s and 2012s," he said. "Actually, our 2010 class is almost done. We are recruiting the 2011 and 2012 classes right now, and that's three to four years down the road.

"It takes three years to recruit a class, and people don't understand that."

A country needs its followers, and that's where Dagenais' community outreach comes into play.

He wants to mold this community into a volleyball hotbed. He envisions Orlando as a place that breeds a strong foundation and love for college-level volleyball.

"For us right now, to take the program to the next echelon, we are trying to do things with booster clubs, things in the community and public appearances," Dagenais said. "Just anything we can do to help the community get invested in collegiate volleyball in this area."

Dagenais wants his team to be a face of the community.

Orlando will host the FIVB Women's Volleyball World Championship qualifiers in the UCF Arena from July 6-8, something the head coach raves and tweets about, because it brings the national attention to his domain.

"We have been doing a great job of trying to build that foundation," Dagenais said. "That takes years. That takes some schools six to eight years to get to where they want to be, and I think we can probably do it in three."

Inspiration isn't far from Dagenais. All he has to do is look at UCF Women's Basketball head coach Joi Williams and how she led a young program to a conference championship in two years. He knows three years is a tangible timeframe.

"Is three years realistic? I think it is," Dagenais said. "I honestly believe that in the third year, we will be prepared to jump on the national scene.

"Now, will we succeed (on the national scene) in the third year? I don't know, but it's going to be the first year where we could. I think what you will see in that third year is a team that is just about ready to break through."

Dagenais is slowly learning how to run his new country. Now he just has to focus on continuing to build and making sure the pieces that have already been set remain in place.

"What I think we have done is we have kind of laid the bricks," Dagenais said. "Now we have to put the mortar between those bricks to make sure they don't fall apart."

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