Sara Rutan: Volleyball star returns as coach

by Nate Rollins / Beacon Correspondent • October 26, 2016

Emerson assistant women's volleyball coach Sara Rutan.
Emerson assistant women's volleyball coach Sara Rutan.

She helped spearhead one of Emerson’s women’s volleyball best four-year runs. In the process, she set the school’s all-time record in digs.

Now, after six years, Sara Rutan ‘11 is back in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym as one of two assistant coaches for her former team.

During Rutan’s tenure on the court at Emerson, which lasted from 2007 to 2010, she helped guide the squad to a 90-39 record and a Great Northeast Athletic Conference title in 2009 as the starting libero all four years. No women’s volleyball player at Emerson has as many digs as Rutan, who has 1,714 to her name.

Former Emerson head coach Craig Letourneau, who coached Rutan throughout her collegiate career, said she was an asset on the court.

“From a backline standpoint, you never had to worry about her there,” Letourneau, now the head coach at Wheaton College, said. “She read the court well. She was really good at doing her job, which was digging the volleyball.”

Letourneau said Rutan’s instincts, devotion, and drive to win made her one of the better players he saw come through the Lions’ program.

“There was never a play that I can recall with her that she wasn’t there,” Letourneau said. “And even if she made the wrong read, she still made up for it with her quick first step in getting to the ball.”

Rutan said she first got involved in coaching shortly after graduating high school, assisting her former club coach with a summer clinic. The experience was a stepping stone to help her become a better student of the game.

“It kind of opened up a whole new door for me, especially as a player,” Rutan said. “Being a coach, you really have to get into the nitty-gritty of the fundamentals.”

Since then, Rutan has coached multiple programs, including the Mass Patriots Volleyball Club and Team EVOLUTION Volleyball.

Rutan said she and Emerson head coach Ben Read connected when she moved back to the Boston area to discuss her potential return. This summer, the two bumped into each other at a pair of tournaments and the pieces fell into place. Rutan said she views her new endeavor as a win-win situation.

“I thought being able to coach with Ben would just be such a great learning opportunity for me,” Rutan said. “Being able to do that at my alma mater was sort of the icing on the cake.”

Emerson’s current starting libero Sam Harton, who recorded her 1,000th career dig on Sept. 24 against Springfield College, said it’s a welcoming sight to have a coach like Rutan who understands the position so well.

“It’s nice to have someone who has been there and knows what it’s like to be a defensive player,” Harton, a junior writing, literature, and publishing major, said. “It’s really nice to have someone who has that specific niche and that is focused on defense and doesn’t spread out amongst the other positions.”

After graduating from Emerson in 2011, Rutan moved to New Hampshire for a job opportunity. Despite being a state away, Rutan said she stayed in touch with her alma-mater and was in contact with some of the younger players on the club.

When Emerson punched its ticket a year later to the GNAC Championship in Nashua, New Hampshire, Rutan made a point to attend the match, but admitted it was quite awkward heading for the stands rather than the locker room.   

“The weirdest thing about graduating and not being a part of a volleyball team is that it was such a huge part of my identity,” Rutan said. “I kind of had to reacquaint myself with other things in the world and grow into myself a little more.”

Rutan said her fondest memory in a Lions uniform came in 2009 during their 3-2 comeback win against Rivier University in the GNAC semifinals. Emerson initially found itself trailing 2-0 before coming alive to claim the next three sets en route to victory. Rutan said she can almost replay the entire match in her head seven years later.

“Something ended up switching,” Rutan said. “I remember Lauren Zanaboni, the middle blocker, ended up making an incredible few plays in a row at the net that just ignited our team, and we all just rallied together.”

Rutan said she feels Harton best resembles her game on this year’s club because she, like Rutan, sports that other jersey of a libero.

“I am immediately drawn to her to try and give her everything I possibly know to help her in that position,” Rutan said.

Despite volleyball being such an enormous part of her life now, Rutan actually started playing later than most. Growing up, Rutan and her sister both competitively played soccer and would clash around the house, in the yard, and on the field. Her parents, tired of the competitive nature between the two, decided it was time to introduce her to a new sport when she was 10 years old. Now, she is determined to help others succeed.

Rutan said if there is one thing she hopes to teach her players, it is to approach every aspect of volleyball with heart and passion, because once you graduate, that will never fade away.

“Play as hard and as fast [as you can] to have no regrets when you walk off the court,” Rutan said.