Wilson wraps up first spring with the Hokies

BLACKSBURG - First-year head coach Jill Lytle Wilson didn’t necessarily go by the book in her first spring at Virginia Tech.

After 11 years on the bench at LSU, a program she helped lead to six NCAA Championship appearances, Wilson wanted to go beyond the X’s and O’s and fully understand the personalities and goals of her players. Typically, one half of practices involved skill work, and the other was dedicated to instilling confidence and understanding whom her players were as people.

Wilson sees the latter piece as a pivotal cornerstone in what she wants to build at Virginia Tech moving forward.

“For me, developing them as strong women directly affects them as volleyball players,” Wilson said. “You have to look at the entire picture of them as people, the development of their strengths, what they are going to become in life. We can teach the game, but if they’re not confident and they don’t have a direction of where they’re going in life, then it’s going to show on the volleyball court.”

The Hokies went through a tough 2016 campaign that saw them finish strong by winning five of their final seven matches. Despite losing veterans Lindsey Owens and Amanda McKinzie to graduation, Wilson will see four returning starters as well as a talented freshman class that could make an immediate impact. Learning about how they process information, what motivates them, what their goals are, was just as, if not more, important for her than simply explaining strategy.

Wilson’s team was always receptive to everything that she threw at them this past spring, no matter how different it was. She kept them on their toes and always tried to be creative in practices every single day. After making major adjustments to their practice and game preparation, Wilson saw progress in their spring tournaments on the road and in the way that they played every point to the fullest.

“They’ve been wonderful,” Wilson said. “They’re a really smart group, so that’s been a fun challenge for our staff because every drill is new to them. They’re very open minded, they’re excited, they’re eager, and now the goal for us is to help them understand how hard they have to work in order to take that next step.”

Wilson was coming off of an offseason that she felt like she won. Her reward was the hiring of two coaches who brought impressive resumes as coaches and former players.

John Wasielewski will serve as associate head coach after a successful 18-year run at Duke. With the Blue Devils, Wasielewski helped lead the program to 12 NCAA Championship appearances and four ACC Championships. He was also a two-time team captain at Penn State and a member of two Final Four teams. Former UCLA standout Thomas Amberg rounds out Wilson’s staff. Amberg, who worked previously with Wilson as a volunteer assistant coach at LSU in 2013 and 2016, was a consensus first team All-American as a senior and later played professionally in France for three years.

“I like to say that I won the assistant coach lottery,” Wilson said. “They’re both great. They bring completely different things and new ideas, and I love that. They can challenge me in different ways and can bring attributes that are different from mine. We have a great time together.”

The new coaching staff was in two to three cities a week during the spring recruiting period. For almost all of the spring semester, and even before she settled down in Blacksburg, Wilson was on the recruiting trail in search of the pieces that will create the foundation for her program.

Wilson found inspiration in the recruiting philosophy of Tech men’s basketball coach Buzz Williams, who doesn’t like to use the term “recruiting” at all. Instead of recruiting a prospect, Wilson coaches them instead. An open and honest relationship goes much further than trying to quickly spit out a recruiting pitch.

“We talk to them very real, and I want them to talk really real to me. We’re not selling something,” Wilson said. “This is a lifelong commitment. You’re a Hokie for life. I like it to be very real and very up front and very honest. Once you get recruits to campus here, it sells itself. Everyone is so wonderful and warm, and this town is amazing. They want to see our program succeed.”

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