After the long, hot summer, KO’s campus comes alive again, much like it does every year. Despite the stifling heat, Hewett Gym is no exception to this. Each year, a new cycle of volleyball players make Hewett their home. Dedicating their time to the sport that they love, they spend hours perfecting their serves, learning rotations, and battling it out versus tough competitors on the court.
For the past 26 years, KO Volleyball has been led by Head Coach Scott McDonald. However, it was recently announced that Coach McDonald, affectionately known as “Mac,” will be stepping down from his position to coach the JV team. Even though it is a severe understatement to say that Mac will be greatly missed, his time coaching has helped KOVB develop into a successful and more importantly, special program.
Prior to coaching at KO, Mac had very little formal experience with volleyball, but he has always had a passion for the game. Mac’s love for volleyball really blossomed when he was in college and would spend the summers playing beach volleyball in Narragansett, R.I. with friends. So, when the opportunity to coach was presented, Mac gladly accepted.
When Mac took on the position as head coach, KOVB looked very different from the program it is today. He described the struggle of only having ten girls for both the varsity and JV teams, “We would go play matches and half the team would play in both [varsity and JV] matches,” he said. “We should have just been a JV team, but they didn’t do that back then. I think we might have won one match that season.”
In addition to inheriting a relatively underdeveloped program, there was also a major learning curve for Mac who was totally new to the rules of indoor volleyball. He took the time to read lots of books about the game and watch videos, what he called “on the job training,” in order to improve his own coaching abilities. Mac was also very grateful to have the help of a parent volunteer, who had more extensive volleyball knowledge during his first season.
During these early years, Tim Plahn, the JV coach at the time, provided invaluable guidance. As did Charlie Sullivan, the head coach of the mens team at Springfield College, who Mac invited to campus to hold camps for KO volleyball players.
Over time, interest in KOVB grew and the program began to establish itself, a shift that was not only brought about by Mac’s effective coaching but also, the growth of club volleyball in New England.
Allie Kyff ’14, a member of the varsity team from 2011 to 2013, shared that Mac’s outgoing and supportive personality was one of the driving forces behind her switch from soccer to volleyball. “Mac just seemed like such a cool coach and the team always looked like they were having so much fun,” she said. She added that it only became more apparent just how special of a coach he was after she started playing for him herself, “He was always able to strike such a healthy balance between caring and wanting to do well while not wanting it to consume our whole lives.”
Aside from helping his players balance the demands of a varsity team in addition to their academic and extracurricular responsibilities, Mac has done an incredible job at cultivating good team chemistry through the many traditions that are special to KOVB. Some of which include pre-game meetings in the team room, breaking hearts on the whiteboard after winning games, and his famous “Keys to Victory”, most recently known as “Wyvern Warrior Words.”
These talks began some time in the early 2000s, and have been a hit ever since, enabling Mac to utilize his creative side and inspire his players through his eloquent words.
As a player myself, it’s impossible to discount the impact of his speeches and so, I wanted to share some of the wisdom he shared. Just before our semi-final match versus St. Lukes, the team gathered in the team room above Soby Gym. Like we always did, we joined hands in a circle as Mac shared his “Wyvern Warrior Words.”
For our last home match, and what could have been the end of our season all together, Mac told us, “When you look across the net today,” he began, “remember how much we’ve put into this season, remember what you promised to give to your team throughout this postseason, and remember that we already beat St. Lukes this season. Know without question, that we’re ready to do it again. Be confident, be loose, be focused, be loud, be aggressive, be smart, be fearless, and be unbreakable.”
While the specific messaging of each speech changes and evolves from year to year, the impact on players has remained constant. A more recent alumna of the program, Mackenzie Caruso ’22, reflected on what “Keys to Victory” meant to her, “[Those speeches] were literally the best thing ever,” she said. “I had never had another coach who had done anything like that. Mac really knew exactly what to say to get us amped up before a game. You could just tell how much time and effort he put into every one of them.”
Allie shared similar sentiments as she looked back on her time with the team, “There were ‘Keys to Victory’ that would literally bring people to tears,” she remarked. “I just remember it being a really powerful and meaningful experience that we shared.”
Although Mac is sad to leave the program that he’s been with for so many years, he is looking forward to the new experiences the change offers. “I think that I’m really good at focusing on the fundamental skills,” he shared. “I’m less of a strategist than other volleyball coaches. So, in that regard, it will be really nice for me to work with some younger players. Honestly, in a way, that’s sort of what I used to do with the team during those early years.”
Over the years, the team’s record has changed dramatically, from 3-12 in 2003 to 15-4 in 2022, reflecting the program’s growth, but beyond the numbers, Mac’s legacy will be felt in the hundreds of players he’s positively impacted throughout the years.