Saturday, November 17, 2012

Loeswick's Ospreys Flying High by Staying Grounded

North Florida Head Coach Steve Loeswick is settling in nicely in his first year on the job.

In his first few months on the job at North Florida, Loeswick led the Ospreys to the inaugural A-Sun Sand Volleyball championship and was named A-Sun Coach of the Year.

Fast forward a few more months, and he once again has his North Florida team in position to claim another A-Sun title. On the job not even a year, and he has the potential for two A-Sun championships.

Loeswick is one of three first-year head coaches in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He has enjoyed the most early success of the trio, due in large part of the team that he inherited.

"I knew we had a talented group," he says. "I thought it was going to come down to us being able to put the pieces together and for everyone to stay grounded and be focused on the 'team-first' mentality. It took a while for me to get everyone on board, but once we did the team started playing really well."

Out of the gate the Ospreys were 1-5, but UNF picked up come momentum with a seven-game win streak just prior to the start of the A-Sun season. However, through the first half of the conference season, things turned south and Loeswick and North Florida went 3-6. 

"There was a team meeting about midseason, and we just had a heart-to-heart," Loeswick says. "I asked them to recommit to our philosophies and I told them what I thought it would take for us to be a championship team."

Whatever he listed as his keys to success, the team again bought in and the season began to turn. Since the loss to ETSU on Oct. 13, the Ospreys have won 11 of their last 12 games and are currently on an eight-match win streak.

So what is making the difference?

"We have been more aggressive recently, serving aggressively and getting people out of their system, which helps our defense out," says Loeswick. "I think our passing and our defense are our strong points. I have a lot of seniors who help take care of that, so I am a little scared for next year.

"But this whole season has been a long process, and the goal all season has been to play the best that we can in the next opportunity that we play. I am grateful that we get to play another match."

Apart from the Xs and Os of the game, Loeswick has also set out to change the culture and the outlook of the team by his approach to building relationships with his players, not just coaching them. It is an approach that stuck with him from his days as an assistant to Fran Flory at LSU.

"My personality is to care about the girls, to care about them as people and care about the choices that they make," he says. "I think that once they understood that our staff cares about them, then they gave us all that they had. This group has matured on and off the court more than any other team that I have coached.

"Coach Flory is a down-to-earth, very good person who cares about the kids that come through the program. She understands that sometimes hard decisions are necessary to help someone make good choices, and to become the best person that they can be. I really took to that philosophy and still hold to it today."

The season has certainly not come without challenges, and Loeswick admits that he is still in a bit of a learning curve.

"You can always second-guess yourself at points, like in some matches I didn't quite handle things the way I would have liked or made a different decision in a match here and there.

"The biggest thing that I have had to learn is the amount of off-the-court stuff that head coach has to take care of," says Loeswick. "I have lots of the team in the office at some point every day, and we are usually not talking about volleyball, but talking about school, about making good choices, and trying to help them become better people."

Loeswick has certainly made his group of players a better team, a team that just knocked off the regular season champion and that has a chance to secure another title of its own. Given how successful his approach has been to building and leading his team this season, what will his approach be in the program's first ever indoor championship final?

"We are not going to go out tomorrow and try and win a match," he says. "We are just going to go out and try to play the best that we can. Hopefully we will bring home a championship.

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