Many changes were made this past offseason for ASU women’s volleyball, and one of those is the hiring of new head coach JJ Van Niel.
Van Niel joined the team in December 2022 following the departure of Sanja Tomasevic and her six-year reign as head coach.
Van Niel has a rich background in volleyball dating back to when he started playing in the sixth grade and continued throughout high school. Once he graduated high school, he got the opportunity to assist his high school volleyball team without any experience or interest in being a coach in the first place.
While a student at the University of Southern California, Van Niel didn’t play volleyball or any other college sports. Instead, he continued his love for it by doing other things such as playing in adult leagues or participating in Los Angeles beach volleyball.
Later on, he told the Coast Volleyball Club in San Diego that if they needed someone, he would gladly lend a helping hand. Little did he know, that would be the start of his coaching career and his passion for leading a team.
Previously, Van Niel gained many different types of coaching experiences as a consultant coach for the U.S. Women’s National Team and a scout coach for U.S. Women’s Volleyball at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He continued on as an assistant and associate head coach with both Utah and USC before he came to ASU.
Growing up in the Pac-12, he has always been fond of the fan life at ASU whenever his previous teams would compete against the Sun Devils.
“I loved visiting Tempe and the college environment,” Van Niel said. “Listening to people talk about how passionate it is here with ASU and their athletics was a quality appeal to me and a huge reason why I joined this program.”
With ASU already leaving a positive impression on him, Van Niel hopes to pay it back and make a big impact during his first season here.
“We wanna be a team that people come to watch and see as greedy, intentional and passionate. See us as competitive,” Van Niel said.
He even said that one of his biggest goals this year is to build a stronger bond with the fans and the team itself. He wants to create a more prominent social media presence to attract fans to the games and bring more attention to his athletes.
With that said, Van Niel has wasted no time leaving a positive first impression on some of his players.
Every player feels important and part of the team, ” senior Marta Levinska said. “He has such a wide knowledge of the game and has already taught us strategies to help strengthen our gameplay both individually and as a team."
Graduate student Shannon Shields said Van Niel prioritizes having a “this is our team, we are one mentality."
Shields said this sort of mentality and understanding in a head coach that "everyone makes mistakes" is something the team strongly values.
Graduate student Maddie McLaughlin also appreciated Van Niel's patience and responsibility. McLaughlin said he took the time to learn "about us as people first rather than just athletes."
McLaughlin said one of her favorite things about him is "his really high standards for us as a team and as individuals. I respect that because he recognizes our potential and refuses to be anything less.”
Peeling off nine-straight wins to open the season, the Sun Devils have already made it a promising and positive start for Van Niel compared to last season's 13-19 score.
"They’ve had their foot on the gas and stayed consistent and steady," Van Niel said. “Mentally playing for the next point and not paying attention to the score is what we can use to really put lots of pressure on the teams we play against. I couldn’t have asked for anything better."
The team is gearing up for a continued positive start against Memphis, Little Rock and Southern Miss in Tennessee beginning on Thursday.
Edited by Alfred Smith III, Jasmine Kabiri and Angelina Steel.