Jerry Tarkanian. John Wooden. Gino Auriemma.
All three names ring bells to collegiate sports fans. All three stood at the top of their profession as kings of the hard court.
Tarkanian was looked upon as a “father” by some basketball players at University of Nevada Las Vegas, often clashing heads with the U.S. college sports governing body, the National Colligate Athletic Association (NCAA), to the point of a lawsuit that stretched out almost a decade after it began. Wooden took a little known west coast school in Los Angeles and made UCLA a powerhouse, amassing a NCAA men’s basketball record of 88 victories and making stars out of future NBA hall of famers Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Then there’s Auriemma and his 90 and 111 game winning streaks at University of Connecticut (UConn), eclipsing the success of the dominant men’s programs as much as feuding with other standout coaches, like his men’s counterpart at UConn, Jim Calhoun.
All of that falls short in comparison to Humber women’s volleyball coach, Chris Wilkins. Wilkins doesn’t have the money the big programs down south do. He doesn’t have the taskmaster trademark that some would expect of a coach of a successful sports program. He’s happy, fun and downright humble.
Yet, Wilkins sits at the helm of what is arguably the best run volleyball program in the country. Not including the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s (CCAA) last season,
‘The Lady Hawks’ haven’t lost a game in nearly nine years.
When asked about it, he says it boils down to one thing.
“It’s pretty cool about 130 wins because there are a lot of players here that contributed
to it,” he says. “I have alums still emailing me to ask ‘hey, how’s it going.’ It’s neat, it’s fun to see how high we can get it up there.”
In a time where sports is almost seen as a business, Wilkins views volleyball as a passion. His niece Kyla plays on the women’s team and brother Wayne coaches the powerful men’s team. Wilkins incorporates different techniques such as scrimmages in the snow to keep his team hungry.
The problem with streaks such as these is that pressure mounts with every win, including victories last week against Nipissing University and Canadore College. That is not lost on Wilkins, or his players.
“It’s a lot to live up to,”
says Jasmine Laugheed, a transfer from Coppin State College in Baltimore. “He loves to push us to our limits. He has an awareness of what those limits are.”
Laugheed, who had titanium rods placed in both legs due to stress fractures, says Wilkins has made sure of both her taking care of herself on and off the court.
While Tarkanian famously once said his 1990 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels would have benefited from a close loss that season, Wilkins never had to deal with such a deficiency.
These ‘Lady Hawks’ haven’t yet been humbled, but they have been scared.
They finished last in their CCAA group at the national championships last season. They’ve scratched and clawed to wins over Niagara College and Canadore College in previous seasons by winning in five sets.
That, Wilkins says, keeps the thirst for victory in his players.
“At the risk of sounding corny, it’s simply hard work.”