When Elmira College Head Women's Volleyball Coach Rhonda Faunce looks into the stands during a match, she sees them cheering wildly. When she walks across campus, she notices them playing pepper with members of her team. When she heads to the punch bowl at a team party, there they are again: men. And Faunce couldn't be happier to see them.
Like several other NCAA Division III schools, Elmira recently added men's volleyball to its athletic offerings. While the move was designed to help increase the school's male enrollment, according Faunce, it has also been beneficial for her team.
"Our women's program has traditionally been decent, but since we added the men's program two years ago, it just feels like there's new energy surrounding the team," says Faunce. "I'm not afraid to say that the men's program has boosted the morale of the women's program and added excitement for the sport on our campus."
For example, attend an Elmira women's match and you're likely to see 10 or more male players cheering loudly with their chests painted. "And the level of play on both squads has really gone up," says Faunce, whose team went from 17 wins in 2009 to 28 in each of the past two seasons. "Players from both the men's and women's teams are constantly getting together to play pickup games."
A key to the positive relationship between the two teams has been the synergy of the coaching staffs. Head Men's Coach Jeff Lennox is also an Assistant Coach on the women's squad, and he and Faunce have similar coaching philosophies. "We believe in the same things," Faunce says. "He's very driven about doing things the right way and teaches his players correct behavior, including having respect for women.
"If he had a different philosophy than me, that could be a downside," she continues. "But with the setup we have, where the men's coach is involved with the women's program and we communicate a lot, it has been great."