Kuhn has Aggies rolling into NCAA Tournament
Calvert graduate leads brilliant second season as coach at Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Laura “Bird” Kuhn is the coach of one of the top volleyball programs in the country.
Volleyball has been a big part of her life. She was a star player for Calvert, then was a four-year letterwinner at Georgia Tech.
Since her playing career ended, she been an assistant coach numerous places: Appalachian State, the University of Miami and Kansas.
At Kansas, she helped the program make a Final 4 appearance in 2015, the same season she was named the American Volleyball Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year.
A little less than two years ago, Kuhn got her first head coaching job, at Texas A&M.
But Tuesday evening — two days before her team opens the NCAA Tournament at home against St. John — the Seneca made a confession.
She has trouble just sitting back and watching the sport.
“I cannot watch volleyball, though,” she said. “Because, No. 1 if I’m not coaching it, I don’t know what’s being said or whatever. So it is interesting, because I think it’s more stressful to watch it than to be coaching it or playing it, because you know.”
And Kuhn knows plenty. And during her relatively short tenure with the Aggies, she’s accomplished plenty.
In her two seasons, she’s gone 38-20. This year, Texas A&M is 21-7, the program’s first 20-win season since 2016.
Four Texas A&M players — Camille Conner, Hollann Hans, Lauren Davis and Treyaunna Rush — earned all SEC honors.
And Kuhn was named the SEC’s coach of the year.
“I think it was just the continued development and building,” Kuhn said. “Like, last year, we had the core of our returners back. So it was just buy-in from last year. It started last year. The foundation was laid.”
Hans, who was a freshman on the ’16 squad that also made the NCAA tournament, said she had some concerns two years ago when Kuhn was hired, but they quickly evaporated.
“When I heard there was gonna be a coaching change, I didn’t know what to expect,” Hans said. “Once Bird got here, she made an immediate impact, just on and off the court.”
“With her coaching style, she brought so much energy, and off the court she really valued relationships, and so, that was a huge thing for us,” Hans said. “I think we’re seeing the benefits of that now, with how close we are with the coaching staff and with each other as a team.”
Hans said that Kuhn has had retreats and team-building exercises for the squad, which strengethened its bond.
Kuhn said that one of the key points is the dynamic between Hans and Rush.
Hans is a laser-focused senior, while Rush is a freshman who Kuhn described as “all personality.”
“Trey can loosen Hollann up for matches, and during matches,” Kuhn said. “They do this wave thing with their arms, and they have their little handshakes. And Trey will like, yell at her and call her ‘Francis,’ because that’s her middle name. Those kinds of things, behind the scenes, it’s like the team-team stuff.”
Hans said it helps make the team special, and Kuhn is a big reason for it.
“It’s been really cool getting to see our relationship grow, and Bird is a huge part of that,” Hans said. “She gave us those opportunities to get to know each other better.
“Just having these relationships is something I’ll cherish forever, and she was a huge part of making that happen, so I’m super thankful.”
Kuhn made it clear the Aggies’ trip to the NCAA Tournament isn’t about just getting there.
“It’s something that I think will just be a standard. It’s like making deep runs,” she said. “This year, it’s not about just making the tournament. We want to make a deep run and execute, continue to grow as a team and develop.”
Kuhn believes her squad has the ability for just that kind of run. It showed it last week in a match with South Carolina. Texas A&M won in four sets.
“I was proud of them. We struggled in the first set, and really turned it around and played sharp, and it was the first time I’ve seen us actually compete on the road like that and beat a team decisively,” Kuhn said. “South Carolina is a good team, so that was really big for us.”
The Aggies concluded their season with a five-set loss to Florida, but by that time, the coaching staff knew it would make the tournament. The question was whether Texas A&M would host the first two matches.
Kuhn said it was big to get the news she and her team would stay in College Station.
“Huge. Huge. It is so big,” she said. “The homecourt advantage, yeah, there’s gonna be some limitations with NCAA and all that. But the homecourt advantage that we’ll have, just being right here, and our fans that will be here, promoting the matches, it will be awesome.”
And that’s something Kuhn stressed when talking about working at Texas A&M. She said the program and community are all-in.
Kuhn said she was aware of that from when she first came to town.
“When I did my interview, it felt like Kansas on steroids,” she said. “The feel of it, and the vibe of it, it was just everything — I know they say everything is bigger in Texas — but at A&M, the commitment, the investment that the alumni and donors and the boosters have here is insane.”
Kuhn said she and her staff have really liked the atmosphere.
“It’s so down-to-earth,” she said. “The people are down to earth. So I’ve loved it, my staff, we’re all really close, but it just feels like home. It feels like home already. We feel like we’ve been here longer than two years. We’ve built relationships, and really gotten the buy-in from not just the players, but the people who are on the support staff.”
Kuhn was asked if all of that support can create pressure.
“I think pressure is just executing, and you do that every day,” she said.
And now, Texas A&M will need to execute to beat St. John’s and advance. And perhaps, soon, to win a national title.
That’s something the Calvert grad doesn’t shy away from.
“That’s why we’re doing it,” she said. “I’m just that way. Pressure is what you make of it.”
Kuhn said she has remained in contact with a number of people in Tiffin and at Calvert. She said she and Senecas volleyball coach Lori Rombach — who knows something about winning titles — texted Sunday, and family friend Nick Fabrizio sends the Texas A&M team videos before each game.
“I’m close with a lot of people still from Tiffin,” she said. “I’m pretty good at keeping in touch with people, so I would say the coolest thing is, I love everyone notices it and they’re proud. It just keeps us all connected. I think that connection is very cool. I come home for Christmas. I always go to Calvert and try to see as many people as I can.”
But tonight, it’s a big volleyball match.
“She brings a positive attitude, and I think that’s been another huge thing for us this season. “It’s been a really great season, and I’m excited for NCAAs and see how far we can go,” Hans said.
It should be fun to watch.
Or in Kuhn’s case, coach.