Averett announces addition of men’s volleyball; Earls named head coach

Posted on February 1st, 2023 by Travis Dix

DANVILLE, Va. — Averett University announced Wednesday the addition of varsity men’s volleyball, which will begin competition during the 2023-24 academic year. Averett also announced the men’s volleyball program will be coached by current women’s volleyball head coach Olivia Earls, who will serve as the head coach for both programs.

Averett Ascending campaign leaders Dr. Richard “Dick” and Jean Wright, have provided a major gift for start-up funding for the program. Dick is a former Averett Trustee, and they are longtime and gracious benefactors of the University.

“The addition of men’s volleyball is an excellent opportunity to build upon Averett’s strong tradition and impact on students’ lives through intercollegiate athletics, while offering a sport that has been rapidly growing across Division III,” said Averett President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks. “We are proud of Averett’s legacy of success in women’s volleyball and this expansion into men’s volleyball is a natural and exciting next step, thanks to the generosity of such gracious donors.”

The addition of men’s volleyball will expand Averett’s number of varsity NCAA programs to 22 in addition to the three varsity club sports offered by the University. Averett’s men’s volleyball program will compete as an independent team as it searches for a conference home. Averett’s primary league, the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, doesn’t currently sponsor men’s volleyball. However, three full-time ODAC members and one associate member currently offer men’s volleyball, and Averett is one of three ODAC institutions that has announced the start of a men’s volleyball program within the next two years.

“Averett’s Department of Athletics has continued to grow from 14 sports in 2013 to now offering 25 teams and opportunities for our student body within a decade,” said Meg Stevens, Averett vice president, director of athletics and campus operations. “As we have researched sports expansion, it became clear that men’s volleyball was the correct fit at this time given its growth at the NCAA Division III level and how that could align within the future of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference. We are fortunate to have such committed donors who understand this vision.”

Earls will take on head coaching duties for the new men’s program while continuing to lead the women’s team after a successful head coaching debut on the women’s side in 2022. In her first season coaching Averett’s storied women’s volleyball program, Earls was voted ODAC Coach of the Year after guiding the Cougars to a 20-11 record with a 10-2 mark in the conference. Averett finished as the ODAC runner-up in the regular season as well as in the conference tournament. Earls produced the Virginia Sports Information Directors (VaSID) State Defensive Player of the Year, two all-state selections, three all-conference selections and two all-tournament team honorees this past fall.

“Olivia has been a valuable asset to our department, both on and off the court, since joining the Averett family,” Stevens said. “The ODAC Coach of the Year honors she received in just her first season are well-deserved, and she is poised to start a successful men’s volleyball program here at Averett on top of maintaining a championship-caliber women’s volleyball program.”

Earls is excited to build Averett’s inaugural men’s volleyball program. She’ll also join an exclusive list of female head coaches who will coach men’s volleyball at any of the NCAA’s three divisions.

“I am grateful to Averett President Dr. Tiffany Franks and Meg Stevens for their support and excited for the opportunity to start and grow the men’s game here at Averett University,” Earls said. “I look forward to watching our volleyball community rally around this new program as we embark on our path to laying a foundation for tradition and success on the men’s side — just as we have done in years past with the women’s game. I am eager to get moving on the recruiting trail as we look toward competing in the spring of 2024.”

Averett will begin an immediate search for a graduate assistant coach for the men’s volleyball program.

The NCAA men’s volleyball season runs from January through April. The Cougars will compete in the E. Stuart James Grant Center, which is home to Averett’s women’s volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s wrestling teams, as well as the Department of Athletics offices.

Men’s volleyball is the latest athletics program added by Averett. Since 2016, the university has added men’s lacrosse, men’s wrestling, women’s golf, men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field, brought back women’s lacrosse and added two varsity club sports — esports and a competitive dance team.

Although men’s volleyball has been an NCAA sport for decades, the NCAA didn’t have official division structures until the 2011-12 academic year, which signaled the start of Division III men’s volleyball as a separate championship. In 2022-23, 114 Division III institutions are sponsoring men’s volleyball teams, with at least 15 additional schools scheduled to add it for the 2023-24 or 2024-25 academic year. Men’s volleyball has been a growing sport at the high school level as well, with approximately 2,682 high schools offering the sport to approximately 66,487 high school participants.

Men’s volleyball will look to follow in the footsteps of Averett’s storied women’s volleyball program, which has produced 19 conference championships, four NCAA Tournament appearances, nine American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America selections, five Academic All-America selections, 16 conference player of the year selections and numerous other individual awards.

Prospective recruits interested in being a part of Averett’s inaugural men’s volleyball program should email [email protected] for more information.