Gooden reflects on 20 years at NIU

The head volleyball coach talks about his growth over two decades leading the Huskies

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Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Head coach Ray Gooden coaches his team from the sidelines during a match on Sept. 18 at Victor E. Court. Gooden has coached at NIU for 20 years.

Carlos Finney Jr., Sports Reporter

NIU head volleyball coach Ray Gooden is entering his 20th season with the program, leaving his mark at the university even though his journey here is still ongoing.

Gooden is the NIU program’s all-time leader in wins with 333 and second amongst active coaches in the Mid-American Conference with 171 MAC wins. In the last nine years, Gooden has led the Huskies to seven 20-win seasons, three MAC regular season Championships and five MAC Tournament Final appearances.

Gooden’s current players, freshman middle blocker Charli Atiemo and senior middle blocker Jasmine Kemp spoke on being coached by someone with all the experience and success that a coach of Gooden’s caliber has had over the years.

“20 years is a lot,” Atiemo said. “Coming in, I knew I was going to learn at least five things the first day from Ray. Every day I find myself learning more things. Whether it be volleyball IQ or just even being a better person, he has great character as well.”

The coach I am now, I pray, has more wisdom and experience than the coach I was when I first started…Every single player and coach has taught me something, not just at my job but at my existence.”

— Ray Gooden, head volleyball coach

Kemp has spent four years being coached by Gooden and spoke on what the experience has been like during this span.

“With Ray, you just have to be a sponge,” Kemp said. “He knows the game well, and I’ve learned so many lessons from him outside of volleyball that I didn’t get the chance to learn from other people,” Kemp said. “So I am very fortunate that I got the chance to play for this program.”

The journey for Gooden has been a learning experience for him as well. Gooden spoke about what his time here at NIU as head coach has taught him throughout the years.

“The journey has been a blessing,” Gooden said. “I have been coaching college volleyball since 1994. To get the opportunity to coach NIU at age 30, I feel blessed and very fortunate to do what I have been able to do over this period of time.”

Coaching for two decades means that you have all sorts of different players with different play styles, personalities, and team chemistry. Gooden spoke about what these experiences with all those different teams he has coached at NIU have taught him.

“It has been a learning experience,” Gooden said. “The coach I am now, I pray, has more wisdom and experience than the coach I was when I first started. Many of the older players that I see from when I first started, I try to apologize to them as much as possible because I feel I have grown over time. Every single player and coach has taught me something, not just at my job but at my existence.”

The learning experiences Gooden has gone through over the years lead to new goals and adjustments every season for what he wants to see his players accomplish.

“My goal as a coach is to help our players get better on and off the court,” Gooden said. “Whether it’s about what they need to do as volleyball players or what they can do as young women. To stay true to our foundation and also trying to be as current as I can to be relatable to our team and our program. There are some things that are locked in our core principles, such as love, trust, respect, effort and attitude. Those things have been with me since day one.”

With a coaching career as long as Gooden’s, his approach in year 20 is far from what it was in year one. Gooden spoke on what he would tell himself two decades ago.

“Year 20 Ray tells year one Ray that you can’t do it all at one time, number one,” Gooden said. “You must evolve the person as opposed to just evolving the stats. Being vulnerable and showing love can be just as strong as showing how to improve skills to win a game.”

Gooden looks to continue his success with the Huskies as they sit at 9-10 on the season and 3-6 in conference play, trying to finish their 2021 season strong. The Huskies have nine games left remaining on their schedule, searching for another MAC championship.