Letourneau puts focus on attitude, team building

 

A 0-19 record might disappoint some coaches, but not Craig Letourneau. When he first started the boys high school volleyball program at Mount Saint Charles Academy in Rhode Island, the team didn’t win a single game.

“We got swept in every single match,” Letourneau said of the team’s first season.

But, Letourneau said, the players’ spirits weren’t defeated.

“The following year, every single one of those players came back ready to go,” he said.

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Two years later, Letourneau’s high school players were undefeated state champions.

And Letourneau brought that experience with him when he was hired to expand Emerson’s volleyball program.

Steve Selnick, a junior broadcast journalism major, has been playing since the inception of the men’s program three years ago.

“[Letourneau] definitely knows how to build a team,” Selnick said. “He really knows how to motivate the players.”

Before Letourneau was hired, the women’s team had never surpassed the quarter-finals, and there was no men’s program.

Now, Emerson Volleyball is an inclusive program in which both the men’s and women’s teams have been contenders in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference playoffs each year.

Letourneau described the Mount Saint Charles Academy team’s turn around as his proudest coaching moment and said he felt similar pride again in 2009 when the Emerson women’s volleyball team made the GNAC championship.

“The women worked so hard to get to that point,” Letourneau said.

Letourneau said he’s been involved in athletics since he was a child, and wants his teams to feel like a big family.

“My dad was a coach, so I’m a coach’s son,” he explained. “I love the relationships in sports.”

Letourneau said he wants his players to depend on him and on one another.

“They know I’m going to respect them and care for them and do whatever I can for them, and in turn they’ll do the same for me.”

Former rival coach Chris Wright said he is impressed by the team’s sense of unity.

“They back each other up when someone is down,” said Wright, who was volleyball coach at Emmanuel College and worked in Emerson’s admission office when Letourneau was hired.

Though Wright no longer coaches at Emmanuel, he is an associate director and coordinator of multicultural recruitment at Emerson.

Even early in the program, Wright said, the Lions were strong against Emmanuel’s more mature program.

“They have a great camaraderie on and off the court,” Wright said. “For such a short program, that was a heck of an accomplishment.”

Recently, Wright said he enjoyed sitting in on a men’s volleyball practice, where he watched Letourneau use scenarios to prepare the team for an upcoming game.

“I love the conditioning that the guys have to go through,” he said. “[Letourneau] impacts the players’ volleyball I.Q.”

Wright said any rivalry between the two has faded  and he even made an appearance as a guest coach at one of Letourneau’s practices.

But just because students aren’t on the volleyball team doesn’t mean they can’t train with Letourneau. He teaches an open workout class at the campus fitness center.

Letourneau describes his circuit training class, which meets Mondays from 12:30-1:30 p.m.,  as a boot camp session in which participants learn to use their own body weight as resistance.

But when asked if he considers himself a bodybuilder, Letourneau laughed and said he doesn’t see himself that way.

“I like fitness. I like to work out.”

Rather than solely focusing on winning, Letourneau said his main goal as a coach is to build a volleyball culture of players with perseverance who are compassionate in their daily lives.

If his players are good role models for his five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter, Letourneau said, he’s done his job.

“Success on the court is great, but I want my kids to keep their noses clean.”

Evan Sporer, assistant sports editor of the Beacon and member of the Emerson Volleyball team, did not edit this article.