New volleyball coach promises hard-working squad
Niagara College’s new women’s volleyball coach was excited about the position the moment she saw the posting.
“It has always been a dream of mine to work at the post secondary level,” Elaine Pilgrim-Susi said. “I have coached from ages U11 up to U18 and I felt that this was the right timing and a great opportunity for me to continue to develop and grow as a coach and expand my opportunity to work with older athletes.”
The 57-year-old Hamilton native, who was raised in Woodstock, describes her coaching style as firm but fair. She takes a three-pronged approach to working with her athletes.
She looks as the athlete as a person first, what their unique abilities, traits and strengths are and what areas need to be continued to be improved upon. Academics are the second part of the prong because that is the first and foremost reason why they are at school.
“I want to make sure that they are successful not only on the court but off the court academically.”
The final prong in her approach is to provide high performance training, including proper nutrition and game analysis.
Hard-working is an apt description of her teams.
“I believe that hard work and training pays off. When we are committed to the training and what happens in our practices, it will transform into our game play,” she said. “It will be intense but fun. We want to make sure the athletes are enjoying the passion that they have chosen to pursue at post secondary, but also doing it in a way that pushes them to be the best athletes that they can be.”
She is looking forward to the entire experience.
“I am extremely excited to work with this talented group of athletes,” said Pilgrim-Susi, who has been coaching with Team Ontario for the past four years. “It’s being able to utilize those skills and knowledge with these athletes and help them continue to grow and push them to reach their maximum potential.”
Doing that in an academic setting is icing on the cake for the masters of education holder.
“My skills education and training for the last 30 years will definitely be an asset as well.”
Her varsity background as a downhill slalom racer at the University of Guelph will also help.
“I know what it is like to balance athletics and school. I also have a daughter who is a varsity athlete (NCAA Division 2 soccer player at Pennsylvania Western) so I have that parent perspective too. I like to bring in all those perspectives when I am working with the kids.”
The Knights went 11-7 in the 2022-23 season and most of the roster is back. That gives Pilgrim-Susi plenty to work with on the court.
“I believe we finished fourth in the conference last year and our goal is to be on that podium somehow. I would love to win the championship obviously but it is going to take work and time to develop the culture that I want. I have very high expectations and so do the athletes.”
Michele O’Keefe, Niagara’s director of athletics and student engagement, is excited to add her to the coaching crew.
“Her background in education and volleyball resume will be a great fit for what we are building at Niagara College.”
Pilgrim-Susi replace Thomas Sloan, who accepted a head coaching job with the Keyano Huskies in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference.
The former elementary school teacher and principal began her coaching career in 1996 at the intermediate elementary school level in the sports of volleyball, basketball and baseball. She became involved in club volleyball when her oldest son was playing at the under-14 level. She ended up coaching all three of her children, Michael, Nicholas and Caitlin, in the sport and has now been coaching at the club level for eight years.
Her most recent gig was with the Hamilton Smash Raiders at the under-18 girls level.