(Story Courtesy of Allegheny Sports Information Department)
Allegheny College volleyball coach Bridget Sheehan has announced her retirement from the position after an incomparable 30-plus year career with the Gators.
Sheehan, who took a leave of absence for the 2016 season as she battled cancer, retires as the winningest coach in the history of Allegheny College athletics. Hired in 1986, she amassed a record of 635-484, earned three North Coast Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors, and led the Gators to four trips to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
"I have had an amazing experience being a part of the Allegheny College community for the past 30 years," said Sheehan. "It has been a pleasure to have coached and mentored so many Allegheny student-athletes over the years. I have seen them mature and become not only successful players on the court and in the classroom at Allegheny, but more importantly become respected leaders, professionals, and contributors in their communities.
"At times, a coach does not always know the impact they have had until later when their former players come back and express how much they learned from being a part of the volleyball program. This has made the past 30 years fly by, and makes it hard to leave the coaching ranks, and Allegheny College."
"Bridget has been a tremendous member of our department for 30 years," said Allegheny Director of Athletics Portia Hoeg. "She has coached hundreds of Gators throughout her time at the College, and has been an incredible mentor and influence on countless fellow coaches. I could not be more proud of the first class job she's done with Allegheny volleyball, and of all of her contributions to the athletic department, Allegheny College, and the local community. There is a bittersweet feeling surrounding her retirement, as I know that she would love nothing more than to continue to lead her program, but her health is the number one priority, and the department is behind her as she continues to battle."
At the conclusion of the 2015 season, Sheehan ranked 25th all-time in Division III volleyball history in career wins, while she ranked ninth among active coaches. The 635 wins are the most for an NCAC volleyball coach, as Sheehan's squads finished over .500 in 19 different seasons, including 14 years with at least 20 wins, and four with over 30.
Sheehan has coached three players who were named North Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year, including Gwen Herron (1985), Carol Frederick (1987), and the only three-time selection, Molly Dietz (1989, '90, '91). In addition, Dietz was named Verizon Academic All-America in 1991, and Missy Rau in both 1995 and '96. Under Sheehan, 70 Gators have earned All-NCAC accolades and eight have been named All-Region, including 2004 Great Lakes Regional Player of the Year, Traci Stoner.
Upon taking the reigns of the program in 1986, the Gators enjoyed immediate success. In just her second year at the helm in 1987, she led the squad to a 42-5 record, including a 37-match winning streak, en-route to the program's first appearance in the NCAA postseason and her first selection as NCAC Coach of the Year as well as NCAA East Region Coach of the Year. The following season was even better, as the Gators set a program record with 44 wins, and captured their first of four consecutive NCAC titles.
In 1990, Sheehan earned her second NCAC Coach of the Year honor after leading the Gators to a 30-14 record and their third trip to the NCAA playoffs, before posting 27 wins in 1991 to earn their fourth national playoff berth. The Gators continued their winning ways under Sheehan throughout the 1990's, including back-to-back 35-win seasons in 1994 and '95. Between 1996 and 2003, the Gators placed third or higher in the NCAC final standings five times, highlighted by setter Vicki Kajder's selection as NCAC Newcomer of the Year in 2000, and a 28-13 overall record in 2003.
Over the course of the last decade, the immense impact and success of Sheehan's teams have continued to be recognized with the election of five of her former players into the Allegheny Hall of Fame, including Dietz (elected 2002), Frederick (2006), Laurie Machuga (2006), Sue Plyler (2009), Renea Surrena (2012), and Kajder (2014).
Sheehan joined the prestigious 500-win club during the 2005 season with a 3-0 victory over Piedmont College on Sept. 16, while in 2008, she guided the Gators to a program-record 11 NCAC victories, and their 20th NCAC tournament appearance in 25 years.
In the opening match of the 2014 season, Sheehan guided the Gators to a 3-0 sweep of Waynesburg to become just the 23rd coach in NCAA Division III history, and the only active coach in the NCAC to surpass the 600-win plateau. The Gators also wrapped up the regular season in impressive fashion, earning a five-set win over regionally-ranked Carnegie Mellon in the team's home finale, and would end the season with an 18-15 record.
In what would be her final season on the Gator bench in 2015, Sheehan led her team to an 18-13 mark. Then-sophomore Terra Schall set a program single-season record with 762 digs, and the Gators again qualified for the NCAC tournament.
Prior to the 2016 campaign, Sheehan announced that she would take a leave of absence from her position as she battled cancer, and the Allegheny College and NCAC communities banded together to honor the legendary coach. Throughout the season, the Gator volleyball team collected donations to the Meadville Medical Center's Yolando Barco Oncology Center on behalf of Sheehan, culminating with a capacity crowd on hand at the Wise Center for an October match against Denison on #Battle4Bridget Day. Two weeks later at the NCAC tournament, the conference coaches unanimously named Sheehan the conference's Coach of the Year to recognize her myriad contributions to the league during her illustrious career.
Prior to being hired at Allegheny, Sheehan began her coaching career as an assistant volleyball coach at nearby Maplewood High School from 1979-82, before she moved to Cochranton High School where she served as junior high basketball coach (1980-84) and head volleyball and basketball coach (1984-86).
Sheehan graduated from Slippery Rock University in 1977 with a degree in economics, and she was a four-year volleyball starter and served as team captain during her senior campaign. She also went on to earn a master's in sports administration from her alma mater in 1990, and was inducted into the Slippery Rock Hall of Fame in 2008.
"I am fortunate to have been able to work with Bridget for the past five years," said Hoeg. "I know I speak for the department in wishing her the best on her road to full recovery and retirement. She has not only been a pillar at Allegheny College, but also within the NCAC and Division III volleyball. Bridget has paved the way for numerous female coaches and to say she will be missed is a huge understatement. Her legacy at Allegheny will forever be cemented in our illustrious tradition."
"I have enjoyed a great career at Allegheny," said Sheehan, "and I have been fortunate to have had great staff, colleagues, and administrators that have shown tremendous support throughout my tenure, which is the key to staying in coaching for so long. I look forward to continuing my connection with the College, as I will always be a Gator at heart."
There will be several celebrations planned for Bridget, including a volleyball alumni event during Allegheny's Reunion Weekend June 3. More information is forthcoming.
A national search for Sheehan's replacement will commence immediately.