In 2017, new head coach Tim Walsh might have been daydreaming about what his Coppin State volleyball team would achieve in later seasons — probably while he was washing the team’s uniforms or painting the boundary lines in their home Physical Education Complex or watching video of potential recruits.
“It has been a long process, but I’m happy it has come to where it is and I’m excited for what the future holds as well,” said Walsh, who just wrapped up his fourth season as Coppin’s head coach, and not coincidentally, the first winning campaign in the 32-year history of the Eagles’ volleyball program.
The Eagles soared to an 11-5 overall record and won the MEAC Northern Division with a 9-1 mark. It was uncharted territory for the program. Though it ended abruptly with a 3-1 loss to Southern Division champ North Carolina A&T in the MEAC tournament April 3, it was Coppin’s first crown of any kind.
“It still stings. I guess I’m still in shock,” said Coppin middle hitter Chudear Tut, the MEAC Freshman of the Year and part of a strong young nucleus for the Eagles. “It’s like a nightmare and I want to wake up. We were so close to everything we had been working for. But things happen and now there’s even more motivation for next year, to get in the weight room and do extra reps and come back stronger.”
The 6-foot-2 Tut is a prime candidate. Even though she led the squad in blocks per set (0.92) and was second in kills (2.48) and hitting percentage (.330), her development was hampered this fall when Coppin’s strength and conditioning coach left and the position wasn’t filled this school year.
“Chudear as a freshman was awesome, to have the kind of impact to be Freshman of the Year and make the all-tournament team,” Walsh said. “We get her in a [weight] program where she can build her hip and shoulder strength and she can really take off.”
The same can be said for Walsh’s entire team. Junior Kareemah Hopkins was named MEAC Setter of the Year and sophomore libero Ashley Roman was Defensive Player of the Year. Roman and junior outside hitter Miajavon Coleman were first-team All-MEAC selections, while Tut, Hopkins and sophomore outside hitter Paola Caten earned second team all-conference honors.
Not surprisingly, Walsh was the MEAC’s Coach of the Year, turning the program around between doing laundry, painting the court and video recruiting.
“We have a great team and a great team culture,” he said. “The girls really appreciate each other. They have classes together, they eat together. They’ve embraced each other and we have a lot of fun and joke around, but they know when to get serious and listen.”
Walsh is by himself coaching the team. He tries to get to at least one major summer AAU event a year to do as much one-stop shopping as possible, and his “hits” in recruiting have been phenomenal under the circumstances.
He doesn’t have any paid assistants, and he hopes the success the team has had will garner some internal goodwill as well as financial and personnel support to keep building on this season’s success. His personal story revolves around a love for the game honed as a youngster. He has come a long way from managing his middle school and high school teams, learning the game and then becoming a player, though he landed at Towson as a scholarship track and field athlete.
Before Coppin, Walsh was at Division III Marywood University in Scranton, Pa., for two seasons. His 2016 squad won 17 games, the most for Marywood in four years. Prior to that stint, Walsh was head coach at Francis Scott Key High in Union Bridge, Md., leading those Eagles to the MPSSAA Class 2A state championship in 2009. He had a 66-18 overall record (.727 winning percentage) in six years and sent eight players on to college to play volleyball.
Walsh obviously has a keen eye for talent — he has to with his non-existent recruiting budget and time constraints of going solo — and he attracts recruits with a great pitch playing to Coppin State’s strong suits.
“There’s so much here for student-athletes,” he said. “There’s a family feel, a small environment. A lot of people don’t want 150 others in their English class. You can really build a rapport here with your teachers. We don’t have football, and that elevates the other sports. Baltimore is amazing. We’re half a mile from the zoo and three miles from the Inner Harbor.”
Walsh dove right into a program that was sink or swim when he took over. Coppin had mostly drowned in losses and long, disappointing seasons marked by failure. The Eagles lost 20 or more games in 25 seasons. Now they’re ready to do some victory laps and build for a bright future.
“I really believe the sky is the limit,” said Tut, a sunny spokesman for the team. “With the experience we’ve had, I think we can do anything we set our minds to.”
Tut is a first-generation United States citizen in a family of seven children who immigrated from the Sudan. She lost her mother to a car crash when she was very young, and as the youngest in her family, she had all her siblings — the proverbial village — looking out for her.
She is appreciative of what others have done for her, and her attitude is infectious on the young Coppin team.
“Seeing people help our family, and seeing my dad struggle with so many children, losing my mom, my older brothers always looked out for me and now I want to bring something to the table,” Tut said. “I don’t want to be average. I want to work hard and help.”
The veterinary science program at Coppin State was the big lure for Tut. Her siblings say she inherited her mother’s “super caring” side, and that translates to wanting to help animals, families that love animals and to someday be a vet.
A volleyball scholarship was her ticket. It’s an added bonus for her and Coppin State that she’s one of several talented young volleyballers helping the Eagles take wing, too.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Coppin State Athletics