Spalding University is spotlighting faculty, staff and student leaders every Friday during Black History Month, including, this week, volleyball coach Cheneta Robinson.
In addition to her efforts in leading Spalding University to victories on the volleyball court, coach Cheneta Robinson has been an up-and-coming leader in increasing diversity in her sport and profession.
Robinson, who is in her third season at Spalding, has received multiple accolades and been selected for multiple programs that exist to support and enhance diversity in volleyball.
“The sport that I coach is not predominately played by Black athletes, so it’s always nice when I see more Black coaches in that sport because I think it encourages younger athletes who are Black or of color to participate and try and possibly even see themselves as a coach one day,” Robinson said. “It’s definitely rewarding, and there’s a sense of appreciation.”
Robinson was a 2019 recipient of the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s Diversity Award, which created training and networking opportunities along with a trip to the AVCA’s national convention, and she is currently participating in the Pac-12 Conference’s Diversity Mentorship program, in which she has regular meetings with the volleyball and athletics staff of the University of Oregon.
Robinson, who was an All-American player at NCAA Division II Indianapolis and came to Spalding after serving as an assistant coach at Division I Evansville, said she never had a Black volleyball coach when she was a player.
Now that she has become a coach she hopes she and colleagues can “set a foundation” for increased diversity in the future.
“In my coaching generation, I’m sure there are more Black coaches – female and male – than there were before,” Robinson said, “and I’m hoping the generations to come (experience) that (increase) as well.”
Robinson, who also is an assistant coach for the high-level 18-and-under club team for KIVA (Kentucky Indiana Volleyball Academy), said that 2019 AVCA Diversity Award provided the opportunity to build long-lasting relationships with other award recipients and learn from coaching colleagues from across the country. She was one of 14 nationally to receive the award. In December 2020, she was part of a Diversity Development Team of coaches who presented at the AVCA Virtual Convention.
“You’re in this huge area (at the national convention) with people who have been doing this for years and years, and you just want to take it all in,” said Robinson, who also received a 2014 AVCA Minority Scholarship while she was a grad assistant at Virginia Commonwealth. “It’s even better when you can do it with a group of people who are in the same boat as you wanting to take it all in, too, plus knowing that you still have that network when it’s over.”
Last fall, the Pac-12 Diversity Mentorship program was launched, providing Robinson with another opportunity for high-level professional development. She was among six coaches selected as mentees to be paired with a coaching staff from the powerhouse Pac-12 for months of meetings about volleyball strategy, leadership, recruiting, athletic compliance and other topics. Robinson was assigned to coach Matt Ulmer’s Oregon staff, and she can call and bounce ideas off Ulmer and the Ducks anytime.
“I’m so excited about this,” Robinson said. “Every time I talk about it, I just get the biggest smile on my face. It’s just been amazing to have that opportunity. It’s just an opportunity to be exposed to this abundance of knowledge.”
Three years ago, Spalding gave Robinson the opportunity to take the next step in her career and enter the head-coaching ranks.
“It gave me the opportunity to explore what I wanted to do in coaching, which is to really build a program, and that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
Robinson has been a service-minded leader in Spalding’s athletic department. She is a coaching advisor for the Student Athletic Advisory Committee, which has participated in service projects around campus and the community, including a recent clothing drive that collected hundreds of articles of clothes that will be donated.
New season finally under way
Robinson is eager to finally have the Golden Eagles back on the court competing.
Spalding (0-1) will play host Eureka and Iowa Wesleyan Friday night in the second and third matches of a season that was postponed six months and cut in half due to the pandemic. Spalding will play a 14-match conference-only schedule before wrapping up the season in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament March 27-April 2.
“I think the players have been handling it well and have been very flexible, which is a great trait to have,” she said. “I think what they have taken away from it is just a gratitude to be able to do this. Some conferences canceled volleyball all together, so we are fortunate to be able to play.”
Spalding went 11-19 (9-9 SLIAC) last season, making a 10-victory improvement over the previous year, and the Golden Eagles, who were voted No. 4 in the preseason poll, will be looking to make additional strides this spring.
Spalding will rely on veterans Cassy Jones, Mya Summers, Sarah Richards and Samantha Robison, and the coach said any number of newcomers, including Kendall Mattison, Gianna Fondren, Maggie Purichia and Hannah Holland, could make an impact.
“Everybody is instrumental and important, and I hope we’re able to put it all together,” Robinson said.