Welcome to Interview #74.
It is my pleasure to introduce you to Coaches Dan and Lorelee (Smith) Friend and their beautiful daughter Rae Analyn. Rae was born four months premature on June 5, 2016. Dan and Lorelee are the men’s and women’s volleyball coaches respectively at Lewis University.
In this Christmas season it is good to slow down, reflect on and give thanks for what we have. Take a few minutes to read Dan and Lorelee’s story. It will touch you deeply as well.
I came across Dan, Lorelee and Rae’s story in Volleyball Magazine. I reached out to them, because their story is one which involves two amazing college coaches, married, coaching at the same school and with a beautiful daughter.
Their story goes beyond volleyball and beyond sport. I often tell my soccer teams, the game is fun and important, but it is after all just a game. There are moments of joy and adversity in all of our lives. While many athletes, parents and coaches often get wrapped up in being successful in their sport, sometimes we are reminded, there is more to life than sport.
Dan and Lorelee’s amazing coaching bios are at the end of the interview.
Coaching conventions are a time of learning, networking and socialization between coaches. Can you share with us the networking that took place for you at the American Volleyball Coaches Association convention?
Lorelee: I am embarrassed to say but my memory of our official first meeting is vague. It was my first convention and I was a little overwhelmed. On Friday night the coaches have an option to play volleyball in a doubles type tournament. It was after this tournament during pick up play that Dan introduced himself to me.
Dan: This one is a little more in my memory then Lorelee’s. It was just a hello. She was coaching at Central Missouri State at the time and I had started my coaching career at a rival school in her conference, Washburn. When I saw she had a Central Missouri shirt it gave me an in to say hello so I introduced myself.
It was a short conversation but important ground work, ha. In a few months after convention I ran into her recruiting, introduced again (she didn’t quite remember) but I was able to open the door a little bigger.
That summer we ended up playing a couple tournaments together (doubles and 6’s). After that we started dating. One cool thing is the following AVCA convention we actual ended playing the coaches blind draw tournament together, randomly drawn to play and won. Since then we have been to every AVCA convention together.
We are going to back track on your lives now. Can you each share with us, your own college recruiting journeys?
Lorelee: I waited until the spring of my senior year to make my decision. Back then this wasn’t crazy late but it was still about 3 months behind the normal decision. I’m not by nature a fast or rash decision maker, so it was important for me to take all 5 visits allowed and do a comparison.
I had a desire to go further away from home and down south for a little more sunshine than what I had in Indiana. I went through the process of letters and videos, as email wasn’t a thing back then. You’d send out a packet with a letter and your video and then wait for a phone call or a rejection letter to come back.
Eventually I had my five visits and made my decision based on the teammates I met. At UNC Asheville the team was very supportive of each other and complimentary of their ability to work and be social as a family. This wasn’t the case with a few of my other visits. Plus they had just finished a year winning!
Dan: Sorry no recruiting journey here. I was just looking to go to college. Went to K-state initially and was going to play college club volleyball. Transferred at semester and went to Washburn and played club volleyball. I grew up in Kansas and there was no boys’ volleyball. I learned to play beach initially at a lake where my brother was a lifeguard when I was about 14. I didn’t touch my first indoor ball until I was a senior in high school.
Lorelee, Why did you choose UNC Ashville?
Lorelee: I took my time making my decision. I wanted a good/winning program in warmer weather. I was undecided for a major so that didn’t give me a means to narrow down. If you have never been to Asheville I suggest visiting. It is beautiful and the campus is amazing.
The deal maker for me was the players. They never disrespected one another and spoke highly of one another’s talent on the court and attitude off the court. That environment was what anyone would want and be successful in.
How did college athletics shape your future lives?
Lorelee: In college I learned to think strategically about the game. This actually made me love volleyball more. I liked the planning and strategizing and feeling of being prepared in competition.
Dan: Washburn was close to home and I was able to get into the athletic training program right away. I knew I wanted to be involved with athletics and this seemed like a good avenue. After my first year at Washburn I started to become a practice player at times for the women’s volleyball team along with playing club. This was where I started to think about coaching. When I finished college I was offered to be an assistant and things took off from there.
What tips do you have for high school athletes who want to play in college?
Lorelee: When practicing, try to put yourself in different situations. Be brave enough to mess up and try new things. Most likely in college you’ll need to be a bit more versatile and going out of your way now to experience a new hit, set, pass, serve or really anything will help you and give you more confidence.
Dan: Similar to Lorelee’s in the sense of no fear of failure as a player. Become as versatile as possible no matter what position you are, train everything. On the men’s side, academics are so important because you want to build a great financial package so you can get to the program you want to. The last couple would be a great teammate on and off the court and be coachable. I watch a player’s personality now more than ever, how you treat your teammates and your coaches.
How did you both end up coaching at Lewis University?
Lorelee: Dan came first and I followed when the women’s job opened up. His version of the story will be a bit more detailed.
Dan: Before I got to Lewis I was at Newman University, an NAIA school in Wichita, KS. I started the first men’s volleyball program in the state and we did fairly well in a short period of time. Competing for a National Championship my 3rd year there (finished National Runner-Up).
Right at the end of that year the Lewis Men’s job opened up. It was in the rough spell where it was getting ready to receive some NCAA sanctions due to professional foreign players on the team during their National Championship run.
I was excited when I got the interview and was offered the job. I thought this was a great opportunity to rebuild a program and coach at the NCAA Division I/II level for men.
The same summer I was going thru this I had started to date Lorelee. She was at Central Missouri State as an assistant. During my second year at Lewis the current women’s coach resigned mid-season. I took over the duties and finished out their season with them. That winter Lorelee applied and got the job which was awesome because we were also engaged at the time. I guess you could say it was fate.
In June of 2016 you were blessed with a beautiful daughter, Rae. But Rae wasn’t due for another 16 weeks. Born at 24 weeks old and weighing 1 lb 8 0z, Rae was extremely premature. What were those initial days and weeks like?
Lorelee: Since neither Dan nor I had much experience with babies our ignorance may have been a blessing. We didn’t have anything to compare it to so our difficulties could have been much worse.
The initial days were filled with shock and then worry. It never crossed my mind that we might have a preemie so when it happened I was blindsided (shock). I hadn’t done any research of any kind and felt truly unprepared. The worry came next. You are given a ton of information with statistics and possibilities of all the things that could be wrong or go wrong. You have no clue which will pertain to your child, so you wait. During the waiting everything imaginable goes through you mind.
Dan: The first few days you get all these numbers and statistics of what could go wrong, life for Rae could be difficult, and the challenges we were going to face.
The day of birth was probably one the scariest things ever. Lorelee had to have an emergency C-section because the cord was prolapsed, so I couldn’t go in the delivery room. I’m stuck waiting in the room to see if my daughter is going to survive and if my wife will be ok. That was a pretty long hour for sure.
The next thing I saw was my daughter inside a box, alive and well. She was strong for sure. A few hours later my wife came out and I got to visit my daughter for the first time in the NICU. What an amazing place!
At first I was scared to touch anything, even breathe. That evening Lorelee got to see Rae for the first time. Over the course of the next few days we would visit here a few times a day, learning the procedures for our visit and how we needed to plan for the next few weeks and months.
Once we left the hospital we visited twice a day for 105 days. We basically saw our daughter grow up, in and out of a box. Learning to breath, eat, and live. It was a roller coaster of emotions with many ups and down along the way. Overall the Loyola NICU nurses and Doctors helped our daughter grow and become stronger, helping us to become parents along the way.
For a Preemie, life is not without its uncertainty and complications. After all, she wasn’t expected to arrive until October. What have you faced as a family over the first half year of Rae’s life?
Both: We are learning each day for sure as any parents. Eating has been the biggest challenge but she is getting better at it each day. We have had a multitude of doctor’s appointments, pediatrician, ophthalmologist, dermatologist, gastritician, cardiologist, physical therapy and follow ups with the NICU. All of the doctors have been great.
How is Rae doing know? What does her path forward look like?
Overall Rae is doing well, gaining small increments of weight and size each week. Her adjusted age is almost 2 months. Her original due date was September 25th. We will use that for her development until she is about 2. Her path looks good. It will just take time. She is over 8lbs now, what a miracle!
I saw a comment you made that being mature parents at 40 and 41 helped you get through this and if you were in your twenties, you are not sure how you would have?
Lorelee: It is true with age comes wisdom, experience and some patience. These things help you deal with major life changes. I think if I were in my 20’s I would have struggled. The emotions are strong and could really devastate but being 40 I’m aware and know that Dan and I are strong enough.
Dan: Overall I just think I am more mature in general. Having coached for almost 20 years and been through so many different situations with my players has given me a good amount of experience. I take a broader look at things that happen. At the same time I feel I have a little better understanding of what things I should be looking for. I also believe not being afraid to ask for help along with asking questions as much as possible. I don’t feel I would have had the same grasp during my 20’s. The other piece is the strong relationship between Lorelee and I after being together for over 12 years.
What are the most important things which have gotten you through this year?
Lorelee: I pray a lot and I have strong faith. There is no doubt in my mind that things will be hard but never so hard that we can’t handle it. I just don’t believe that life works that way. You’re always given hardships in life but never something that will crush you.
Dan: Faith that Rae is incredibly strong and the support from our family and friends (especially the volleyball community) has truly helped us every day.
If you could wrap your arms around other parents of Preemies, what would you whisper to them?
Lorelee: “You can do this.”
Dan: “Be patient”
This fall, Lewis volleyball held a “Playing for Preemies” event to raise awareness and give back to Loyola Medicine’s NICU. The event raised $2500 and brought the community together. What are some of the things that came out of that night for you?
Again I was amazed by the overall support from the volleyball community. The women’s assistant Coach put it together along with the women’s and men’s team, even the opponent McKendree donated money from their team. It was a great evening that we hope to continue in both season’s.
I would like to encourage our Recruiting Code readers to help the Lewis’s give back. If you would like to donate make a donation to Loyola Medicine. To donate, CLICK HERE. When you donate, under “gift designation” choose Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Also, check the box labeled, “Yes, this is in honor of,” and enter Rae Smith.
Thank you to Dan and Lorelee for their transparency and willingness to share their ongoing journey with the rest of us. May God bless their family in mighty ways over the coming years.
The 2016 season is Lorelee Smith’s 10th as the women’s volleyball head coach at Lewis University. The Flyers have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 10 consecutive seasons. It is the longest streak for any volleyball team in the Midwest Region.
Smith has compiled a 250-63 record in her time at Lewis. Her .799 win percentage ranks ninth among active NCAA Division II volleyball coaches and 22nd among active coaches at all three NCAA levels.
The 2016 campaign marks the 12th season for Dan Friend at the helm of the Lewis University men’s volleyball program. He is in his 19th season overall as a collegiate head coach and enters the season with a 380-201 overall record.
Friend has accumulated a 221-114 record during his 11 years as head coach of Lewis.
Next, check out: Best Advice: Get a College Coach to Recruit You
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