On Monday, it was announced that the only head coach the UCSB women’s volleyball program has ever known would retire. On Tuesday afternoon, Head Coach Kathy Gregory officially announced in a press conference full of supportive and adoring players, coaches, alumni and faculty that after 38 years, she was moving on.
“I really did not think I would be coaching for 38 years,” Gregory said. “I look at myself and say how blessed and lucky I am to be able to do something that doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you hate it or want to walk away. I am the lucky one. Everyone sitting here today realize that I have something special.”
Gregory leaves behind a large and lasting legacy. She compiled 882 wins, the fifth most in NCAA Division I history. Under her guidance, the Gauchos went on to 27 NCAA Tournaments and, along with only three other schools, advanced to the first 26. Gregory also took her team to the NCAA Elite Eight three times and to the Sweet Sixteen two more times. She was honored as the AVCA National Coach of the Year in 1993, was a four-time AVCA West Region Coach of the Year and a seven-time Big West Conference Coach of the Year.
To Gregory, what was even more important than winning was the success and growth of her players.
“The most important part of this job that I want people to realize is the students and the fact that you have to impact their lives,” Gregory said. “I am not the easiest coach, I’ll be the first to say it, but life is not easy. Life is very demanding. The challenges that all of us have faced and are going to face is what real competitors are about.”
Current and past players spoke about the honor it was to play under the direction of Gregory and what it meant to be a student of her game.
“It means the world to me to be a part of this with Kathy, because she has done everything for me and I will owe her everything the rest of my life and try and repay her with what she has taught me throughout the four years I played at Santa Barbara,” former player Dana Vargas said. “I would not be the young woman that I am today without Kathy. Kathy always shows you the big picture and things to concentrate on, and I am so thankful.”
Speaking on behalf of the current women’s volleyball team was junior middle blocker Jenna Wilson.
“I can say you’re the toughest coach I have ever had by far, and anyone who has played for her knows that,” Wilson said. “But I am so grateful. I wouldn’t have it any other way because you have taught us so much about life, not just volleyball, and helped us to grow so much. At the same time, there was never a dull moment with you.”
Gregory’s infamous energy could not be calmed even on her final day. Throughout the conference she had been lively and enjoyed her time. It had been quite clear this was not a sad moment, but as she came to the end of her address, she let all in attendance know exactly how exciting it was to be around her, much to the amusement to the audience.
“Everyone asks you ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ Alright, I want to tell you how I want to be remembered. Number one, I want to be remembered for commitment and always giving 100 percent of myself to this job and this program for 38 years. Two, 100 percent graduation rate of any woman that played for me for four years. Three, I lived my life filled with gratitude and appreciation for all the opportunities that I have had in my life and I have tried to instill that attitude into my players. And four, I walked away with the same competitive fire and energy that I had when I started this in 1975.”
Gregory may be stepping down as head coach, but she may be moving to other endeavors on campus.
“It is not the end for Kathy. We are going to ask her to look at the possibility of us starting a beach volleyball program.” UCSB Athletics Director Mark Massari said. “The NCAA announced that as an emerging sport recently. I have held off on that a little bit. Kathy has wanted to push for that. I have held off to be sure we are in it to win it. I know we are now, so she is going to start that with us.”
A version of this article appeared on page 9 of January 16, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.