At the end of practice on Aug. 26, the LMU volleyball team circled up. Much of the discussion was typical post-practice talk, such as strategy from coaches and logistics for an upcoming road trip. But the players also did something unusual — they wrote journal entries in notebooks.
Third-year head coach Aaron Mansfield told his players to write something they saw a teammate do well or improve on during practice. Then they read aloud what they wrote while specifically addressing the person they wrote about. The routine is something that the team does after every practice. This is not a typical exercise for sports teams, but the players appreciate it.
“I have never journaled at the end of my practices before,” said freshman outside hitter Rose Booth. “But I definitely think it helps me with what I take away from each practice, as well as setting clear intentions for tomorrow’s practice and things I want to work on then.”
Journaling is one example of the way Mansfield has placed a stamp on the LMU volleyball program. He took over in 2017 following five years as a coach at Santa Clara. Once hired, he said that he made it a point to meet every player one-on-one.
“I just wanted to ask as many questions as possible,” he said. “Not just about volleyball things, but [also to] get to know them, where they come from, what motivates them and why they’re at LMU.”
Mansfield was aware that a new coaching system would mean some adjusting for the players, so he wanted them to get comfortable with him. “I could tell that there was [some] uncertainty and I wanted to let them know at each individual meeting what I was about,” he said.
Throughout his first season as head coach of the volleyball team, he did not force a style of play upon his players. Rather, he made an effort to find strategies and solutions for everybody.
“It’s not a dictatorship. I’m not here to just implement a system and do it my way,” he said. “I have ideas of how I want to run things ... but I think what they learned really early on is I wasn’t just asking for their feedback just to ask for it. I implemented a lot of things based on things that worked for them.”
Gradually, he gained the trust of his players and posted a 16-13 record. However, it was his second season that was his breakthrough. LMU finished the year 21-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. While reaching the postseason is a major accomplishment for any college coach, the fact that Mansfield was able to do so in just his second year at the helm added a little extra to the run.
Adding to the magic was the specifics of how the team got there. The Lions dropped late-season matches to Pepperdine and Gonzaga, at which point Mansfield wondered if postseason hopes were slipping away. But a straight-sets home win over then-No. 1 BYU in the final game of the season turned the tide, in the context of the season and the careers of many of the players.
“The players that were on the court that day when we beat [BYU] had a lot of five-set losses to BYU in their careers,” he said. “It was really special. And the coolest part for me was just to see the joy of getting our name announced in the tournament when we knew we were on the bubble.”
Now, approximately halfway through his third season at LMU, Mansfield continues to emphasize joy and the importance of maintaining a positive attitude. His teaching of life skills shows that he wants his greatest impact to be not as a coach, but as a mentor to young women as they make their way through college.
“He doesn’t just care about us as volleyball players, but as people,” said senior outside hitter Savannah Slattery. “I can say with confidence that I’ve become a better person under his guidance and coaching.”
Between working in tandem with his players, his concerted efforts to make volleyball fun to play and the journal entries after practice, Mansfield’s plans for the program are taking the volleyball team in the right direction.