What is it like to be considered the greatest of all time in your chosen sport? Just ask Deitre Collins, head coach of Cornell volleyball and, as of Oct. 14, one of six athletes named to the NCAA Divison I Women’s Volleyball 25th Anniversary Team.
There are currently over 300 schools fielding teams in Division I volleyball, most with at least 15 players on the roster. Add up those numbers for 25 years, and it’s understandable why Collins’ reaction to the news was, “Oh my gosh!”
“I mean, what a huge honor. Especially because it does go back so far and there is just a lot of current people who are way more popular and more current with the age of people that are out there now playing and coaching,” Collins said. “You expect the names that you hear frequently to be on that list, and my name isn’t one of those that I think you hear of currently. It was a surprise, but obviously a tremendous honor.”
Maybe not such a surprise to Hawaii fans. That’s where Collins played out her collegiate career from 1980-1983, earning all-tournament recognition, while leading the Rainbows to the national championship in 1982 and 1983. She was also a three-time AVCA All-American, a two-time winner of the Broderick Award, which recognizes the country’s best volleyball player, and the winner of the 1983 Broderick Cup – an annual award given to the best female athlete in the nation. And despite all of these past accolades, Collins still feels like this is happening to someone else.
“Sometimes when you listen to people list your resume and read it, I often say that it always sounds like somebody else because it was so long ago,” she said. “It’s like oh my god – did I do that? Your past doesn’t qualify who you are today. So it seems like somebody else a long time ago, and then all of a sudden this pops up and it brings it all back. It’s just a nice summation of what volleyball has been for me over the last 25 plus years.”
But those around her recognize what Collins has accomplished every day. After college, she played in 130 matches with the U.S. National Team, competing as the starting middle blocker for the 1986 World Championships and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. She also served as an alternate for the 1992 Olympic team, and was a two-time professional champion with the Racing Club of France.
“It’s not a big deal to her. To her, she doesn’t feel like she’s one of the top-6 players in the country,” said senior middle blocker Heather Young. “The fact that she has all this experience and that she was such a great player – it’s awesome to play for her, because it comes out in her coaching. Little things that she’ll say on the court, or little things she’ll do tactic-wise. You know that it’s inside of her and it always will be.”
Although her playing days are in the past, Collins has not let go of the sport. She took her first coaching position in 1996, with UNLV, and set about rebuilding the program. In 1998, she took UNLV to the Western Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, and earned Mountain Division Co-Coach of the Year honors. She had a similar impact at Cornell. After taking the helm in 2004, she guided the Red to its first Ivy League title in a decade. The program is even stronger this year, with a 14-3 overall record and an undefeated first-place standing atop the conference standings halfway through the schedule. Collins has also found success beyond the college stage, as she also coached the 1998 U.S. junior national team to a gold medal.
For Collins, this latest accolade is far from a grand finale to a long and distinguished career. The bottom line is she loves this sport – and she’s not done yet.
“I’m glad to represent Cornell and be on that list now,” she said. “It’s about when I played at Hawaii, but it’s also about who I am now and who I am now is the coach of Cornell. So it kind of brings – I hope – a level of respect to the whole program.”
The players under Collins’ tutelage now recognize that her focus is firmly fixed on what lies ahead, but at the same time they have perspective on her illustrious past.
“When you step back and think about it, it’s definitely an honor. And it’s definitely something that I’ll take for the rest of my life, knowing that I played under one of the best players in history,” Young said. “While we know, and everyone knows, how [good] she was, she wants to put that aside, almost, and have it be based on us as a whole – not just her, not just us – but us a unit, as a family. It’s definitely something that we’re going to take with us for the rest of our lives and be able to tell our grandchildren about, which is really cool.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Assistant Sports Editor