The Lehigh volleyball team huddles before its game against American University at Grace Hall on Nov. 4, 2017. The Mountain Hawks will welcome their new head coach, Alexa Keckler, on Feb. 12. (Catherine Manthorp/B&W Staff)

Lehigh names Alexa Keckler as volleyball head coach

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Last spring, the Lehigh volleyball team was informed that the upcoming fall would be coach Bob Bertucci’s last season at Lehigh.

On Feb. 2, Lehigh Athletics named Alexa Keckler as Bertucci’s replacement. She will officially begin her position Feb. 12.

Keckler comes to Lehigh after serving as head coach at Muhlenberg College in Allentown for eight years.

At Muhlenberg, she was faced with rebuilding a young team.

In her first season, the team finished 6-21. Just three years later, her team won 20 matches and played in the conference championship match for the first time in 12 years.

In Keckler’s final year at Muhlenberg, the Mules went 24-6, and the team achieved its highest NCAA regional ranking at fifth.

But Keckler’s successes as a coach aren’t what most excite the Lehigh team — it’s her energy and passion that have given the Mountain Hawks even more reason to look forward to their next season.

“As a person, she has a very big personality,” sophomore outside hitter Jess Donaldson said. “She almost lights up the room. When we, as a team, met her, she walked in and immediately was smiling, and I just could not stop smiling. She has this great charisma, and she has four kids, so she has a lot of patience and energy.”

Donaldson met Keckler during the summer while they were working side-by-side at camps, but the rest of the team had the opportunity to meet her right before she was named as Lehigh’s new volleyball coach.

Sophomore outside hitter Julia Pressly said Keckler’s energy will go a long way with the team.

“I’m excited for her energy and for someone who’s going to be loud on the bench,” Pressly said. “I’m also excited for her communication. I think she’s going to do a really great job of communicating on and off the court and being able to talk to us.”

Pressly said Keckler has already prepared a list of goals and values she thinks are important for a successful team, which she shared at her first team meeting. Pressly said Keckler’s goals and values align with the team’s and thinks their relationship is off to a good start.

Donaldson believes Keckler will also be able to play a role in the team’s lives outside of volleyball, a part that she thinks has been missing.

“She’s already talking about having class and individual meetings,” Donaldson said. “She said that she wants to know how we’re doing and wants to help us. I think that that’s something our team needs, a person to talk to and another place of encouragement.”

Junior outside hitter Tori Hemsath said encouragement will be crucial, especially later on in the season when energy starts to dwindle as the length of the season takes a toll on the minds and bodies of the athletes.

If the team wants to keep its enthusiasm up as the season progresses, it has to first put in work early on.

“I expect to improve significantly over the course of this spring and summer, both physically and mentally,” Hemsath said. “Then from that improvement, we’ll thrive during preseason and into the regular season. I don’t want our team to have the dip in energy during the season that we seemed to have the past couple of years. I think (Keckler) will help us maintain our energy and get us even more excited and amped for the middle/end of the season.”

As with any new relationship, it will take time to grow. Pressly said it’ll be important to trust Keckler and remember she wants the team to succeed as much as the players do.

After earning a berth to the Patriot League Tournament last season, the Mountain Hawks have high expectations for next season.

“I’m expecting us to make the tournament, and I think that should be our lowest standard because we made it this year, and we should be getting better every year,” Donaldson said. “We just need to adapt to Coach K and her techniques and try to, as quickly as possible, build that level of communication and trust so that we can start strong.”

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