Cashing in on championships

Men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis says investments in recruiting are vital to perennial success


Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie drops back, winds up and tosses a 65-yard prayer to the Miami end zone. It’s caught, the Eagles win and the comeback is complete.

It was 28 years ago when Flutie made his infamous game-winning toss against the Miami Hurricanes. The ‘Flutie Effect’ was coined after a drastic spike in attendance at Boston College.

When the Gaels captured the Vanier Cup in 2009, Queen’s set a new standard for coming years.

Men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis knows those kinds of moments can attract more than just congratulations.

“It really puts Queen’s as a high performance school on the map,” Willis said.

A program’s success often self-perpetuates, namely by attracting more recruits, she added.

It’s the “A-list” recruits, she says, that comprise a competitive market. A well-run program is crucial.

“They’re kind of your blue-chippers, the kids who are going to have an impact on your program absolutely.”

Willis said investments are at the heart of recruitment, something which wasn’t a factor 26 years ago. Meeting an athlete’s parents over dinner and providing incentives to commit to the school never used to be part of the gig.

“Parents will say: ‘this school, that school, this school,’ and they all make similar overtures,” Willis said.

“They want me to tell them directly: why Queen’s?”

Recent notable expenditures for Athletics are the Queen’s ARC in 2009 and Nixon Field this fall.

Hosting the CIS men’s volleyball championships last spring saw Willis lead her squad to a fourth-place national finish in front of a packed home crowd in the ARC gymnasium.

Queen’s Athletics matched the venue with financial means and didn’t pass up the opportunity.

“The admin was willing to support us to that level — we figured out what amount of tickets we needed to sell to break even, and everything worked out,” Willis said.

The ARC’s prowess is among several appealing tools for Willis to attract top-end recruits.

During her 26-year tenure as head coach, she’s seen the process of recruitment increase in competitiveness, creating a demand for the University to generate more to offer.

The return on investments has been perpetual success, in Willis’ case. The average men’s volleyball crowd sizes never really waver.

Except for the extraordinary moments ­— like Queen’s deep run into last year’s CIS tournament.

“Students tend to be fickle in the sense that they like to go to a game where they can cheer for a winner,” she said.

“You can market till you’re blue in the face to try and draw fans, but if you’re not putting out a contender on the floor, it’s tough.”

Queen’s administration doesn’t want to lose the culture of winning.

“It has a big impact on the school, spirit, reputation, image, all those sorts of things,” said Ann Tierney, Queen’s vice-provost and dean of student affairs.

“We got four national TV appearances during [the Vanier Cup] — that was a big run.”

Queen’s athletic success extended far this fall, with all seven varsity teams ranked in the CIS top 10 simultaneously and a men’s rugby OUA championship win.

“[We’re] the only school in Canada this year to achieve that,” Tierney said. “It helps with recruiting coaches and athletes, because they see there’s a culture at the University supporting winning teams.”

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