The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
Amid the miles of Bulldog blue adorning the College of San Mateo campus, the new office of women’s volleyball head coach Katie Goldhahn is decorated in a striking contrast of Cardinal red.
Goldhahn’s digs stand as a tribute to her playing days at Stanford, where she shared in the Cardinal’s last national championship as a junior setter in 2004. But it was the following year CSM’s new coach — for its first-year women’s volleyball team — shared the court with one of the biggest volleyball superstars currently shining on the Olympic court in Rio.
Back in 2005, Foluke Akinradewo was a towering freshman middle blocker. She was quiet and even then was always sporting her signature goggles. That’s the way Goldhahn remembers her former teammate — that, along with the extraordinary talent.
“Foluke is probably one of the best hitters I’ve ever set while she was at Stanford,” Goldhahn said. “She’s grown obviously, matured, from then until now in her court sense. Her court IQ is just incredibly high.”
To put this praise in context, Goldhahn also set for arguably the greatest outside hitter in Stanford history in Logan Tom, herself a four-time Olympian, who last year was named the Pac-12 Conference Women’s Volleyball Player of the Century.
And it was during Goldhahn’s playing heyday at Stanford that her coaching career was born. Playing for longtime head coach John Dunning — her freshman season of 2002 was Dunning’s second at the helm of the Cardinal — Goldhahn watched and learned as the eventual four-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year set the foundation for a dominant 15 years of Stanford volleyball.
A native of Lodi, Goldhahn actually knew Dunning prior to his taking over at Stanford in 2001. During his previous head coaching stint for 16 years at University of the Pacific, Goldhahn — a standout with both the Youth National and Junior National teams — used to work out at Pacific with her Delta Valley Volleyball Club team.
“He’s such a knowledgeable coach, a knowledgeable guy,” Goldhahn said. “I took a lot away. I feel like a good part of my mental approach to the game and how I teach and train came from Dunning.”
The summer after Goldhahn’s graduation, the Cardinal volleyball team took an international summer tour through Italy and Slovenia. It was the first such international trip Stanford took since the outset of Goldhahn’s college career, therefore she made the trip even though she was no longer eligible to play as a graduated player.
In lieu of playing, Goldhahn was named to one of her first coaching posts as the team’s director of operations. Upon her return, she also started coaching for a Palo Alto club team to make a few extra bucks. Goldhahn has been coaching ever since.
“Coaching is always something that finds me,” Goldhahn said.
Goldhahn’s coaching resume should have CSM optimistic that she can build a competitive program from scratch. She previously founded two volleyball clubs, starting with the Palo Alto Elite in 2008; she went on to the Central Valley in 2010 where she, along with two of her former club coaches Brad Freisen and Tiger Shelton, founded the Pacific Coast Volleyball Club. She has also coached, and taught, at Modesto Christian School and served as an assistant coach at San Jose State.
CSM marks her first foray into the community college ranks and she has had to adapt in a hurry. Starting summer workouts with approximately 20 players, the Lady Bulldogs are tentatively set to start their season — beginning Aug. 31 at Skyline College — with 11 players of roster, including nine freshmen.
One of her two sophomore transfers in Samantha Johnson, a former three-year varsity setter at Burlingame who played sparingly last season as a freshman at Feather River College-Quincy.
Johnson said she was contemplating transferring to Foothill College to play this season. While she was taking two summer classes at CSM, however, she saw the poster for the new Lady Bulldogs volleyball team. Little did she know the coach was a setter just like she. It is the first time in Johnson’s career she has played for a former women’s setter.
“She has all the good qualities as a coach,” Johnson said. “She’s very motivating and you respect her. She played at such a high level you have to respect her.”
Goldhahn has continued to take the page out of Dunning’s book that abides by coaching to the personalities on the court and encouraging them to play together. It is a staple of Dunning’s philosophy just as it is for U.S. women’s volleyball head coach Karch Kiraly as this year’s Olympic team forges its team chemistry on the fly.
“I think there is a lot of similarities when you see how Karch is training this current team,” Goldhahn said. “He’s very much a believer in how you treat your teammates and your selflessness on the court. That’s a recurring thing I’ve heard from people who have played for him and who have been a part of the Olympic team.”
Goldhahn is paying close attention to the Olympic team. Upon granting an interview following one of the U.S. women’s preliminary games, she quickly issued a no-spoiler demand regarding the results as she was eagerly anticipating watching the match with all the requisite drama via DVR later in the day.
Now Goldhahn is looking for that passion to translate to the community college level.
“After being in the gym with them this summer, the group that’s remained understands that because that’s just preached in our gym,” Goldhahn said.
She will also continue adding to her resume on the club circuit. Having worked as a roving instructor at the Foundry in Redwood City last season, she will take her first coaching post with the club’s Encore 15-and-under team to coach alongside Notre Dame-Belmont head coach Jen Agresti.
And she will still make plenty of time to root for Akinradewo and the red, white and blue to bring home the gold this week.
“I’m obviously impassioned about the sport because it provided me with so much,” Goldhahn said. “It’s neat to see people I’ve competed with and competed against. And I have a real admiration for what they’ve accomplished.”