Julie Torbett isn’t the tallest person on the volleyball court during a practice in Williams Arena, but there’s no doubt that the first year-coach, who stands 5’4,” is in charge.
“We’re so excited about Coach T.,” said co-captain Nicole Willis, a senior from Raleigh, who transferred from Louisiana State University last year. “She is phenomenal and has already made huge changes to our program and just the overall morale of our team.”
Willis, a child development major, added, “The biggest difference is the morale and attitude for our program in general because ECU volleyball has not had the best reputation for the past couple of years. She’s a world-class coach, and she likes for her athletes to be world-class athletes, so she holds us to a really high standard.”
The daughter of a high school volleyball coach, Torbett remembers riding the bus to matches with her dad when she was 10. She started playing volleyball in 9th grade.
Torbett played all four years at Penn State under legendary coach Russ Rose. He recruited her to be a defensive specialist, which is now a recognized position. “Back then he was just smart enough to see that these big, tall girls can’t play defensive as well as the small, short girls,” she said.
She earned an exercise and sports science degree from Penn State in 1990 and started working in corporate wellness, but she missed competing. She decided to get into coaching; that was more than 20 years ago.
Torbett took over an East Carolina program in February that for the previous three years posted just two wins for each season.
“I’m not a very patient person and I’d like to see a very fast track turn around, but realistically we’re going for double digit wins,” she said. “Whether the final number is 10 or 20 at the end of the season, it will be part of the process.
“Whatever the team is capable of, we’re going to make those steps forward to be on a realistic track to turn this program around within the next four years,” she said.
Torbett said the key to rebuilding a program is to have players buy into her system of coaching and recruiting the right type of players. “You don’t have to have the best players; you have to have players that fit together the best,” she said.
“I’ve been able to be successful with the teams that I’ve coached sticking to three components: Enhancing the competitive drive; enhancing their work ethic; and bringing out their loyalty.”
The latter will involve improving the play on the court.
ECU has some built-in loyalty. Even though their win-loss record for last season was 2-25, their NCAA academic progress rate score for 2012 was a perfect 100. “That means no players were leaving to transfer to play somewhere else. That told me that there’s something special here,” Torbett said.
“The current team didn’t have a lot of success on the volleyball court (last season), but they had that loyalty to East Carolina,” the coach added. “Now we’re going to make them better on the volleyball court and capitalize on that loyalty that they have.”
Torbett came to ECU after a two-year stint at Winthrop University, where she guided the Eagles to a 20-8 Big South Conference record and a 34- 24 overall mark. Previously she was at UNC-Asheville, also a member of the Big South.
In her more than 20-year coaching career, Torbett has 338 career wins, making her the winningest coach in Big South volleyball history.
She plans to apply her talent for bringing out the best in her players—on and off the court— to ECU.
“I enjoy getting to know a young lady at 17 and getting to watch her walk across the stage at 21,” Torbett said. “The growth that happens in that time frame is incredible, and volleyball is the way that I get to influence them. But we’re learning life lessons every single day.”
The new coach also has an assignment for Pirate fans.
“I would like for Pirate Nation, the students and Greenville to support us as we go through our struggles and we transition. The girls need to feel that support and want to have people at their matches cheering as they showcase the changes. People will see a definite difference,” she said.
Co-captain Willis said the fans can be an asset for the team as they rebuild.
“The fans provide that extra boost we need,” she said, adding the team has noticed the fan base grow through camps and word of mouth.
“We obviously want to do better than we did last year, but three is better than we did last year. And that’s not our goal. As a team, we decided we’d like to see at least 10 (wins). That would be tremendous for us.
“Just bringing a different attitude and different work ethic would be a win in our books,” Willis said.
Torre Blake, a sophomore from Austin, Texas, who is the daughter of former ECU quarterback Jeff Blake ’94, echoed her teammate’s excitement about the new coach and the season.
“We’re not focusing on the past,” said Blake. “We’re so excited. We just want to win and go out there and have fun. We want to make a name for the volleyball team on this campus and in the community.”
Torbett has had the players go out into the community to talk about the importance of exercise and academics.
“Coach Torbett’s really hands-on. And we work hard all the time,” Blake said. “She brings the heat, which is only going to prepare us for the season and make us better."