The 2015-16 season marks Matt Jennings’ fourth as head volleyball coach at Michigan Tech. Through his first three seasons leading the Huskies, Jennings has orchestrated a steady rebuilding of the volleyball program. With 21 GLIAC wins and 33 overall, the Tech volleyball team has made an impressive move up the standings of in one of DII’s strongest volleyball leagues.
In his first two seasons in Houghton, Jennings’ Huskies won more matches than the team had over the three seasons seasons prior to his arrival combined. Having inherited a team that went 0-19 in conference play in 2011, but played in the NCAA tournament as recently as 2009, Jennings directed a 7-11 GLIAC and 12-19 overall finish in 2012, the best single-year improvement in the league.
That season’s freshman class enters 2015 as seniors, and was Jennings’ first recruiting class at Tech. Team captain and starting libero Jackie Aird, a product of that first group, has established herself as one of the best defensive players ever to play for Michigan Tech Volleyball. In three seasons, she's tallied 1,353 total digs, just 224 shy of the team career record. Last season, she set the program record for digs in a season with 491, while her 4.86 digs per set average was also a single season program high. With the 3rd most digs in the conferences, she was voted 2nd Team All GLIAC and team MVP.
Aside from Aird, no one has had a more immediate impact on the team’s output upon their arrival than Lauren Emmert. As a freshman, she was statistically one of the most productive players in the conference. Leading the Huskies in kills, blocks, and points, the 6’1” middle blocker was a Honorable Mention All-GLIAC selection. She ranked in the conference top 10 in several categories, including points, points/s, kills, and kills/s.
Since taking the helm, Tech's roster has been recognized in a multitude of ways, including nearly two dozen individual conference academic awards, national team academic awards, and more. In 2013, then-senior setter Maddie Haben was voted onto the All-GLIAC 2nd team. Also in 2013, then-freshman Aubrey Ficek led the GLIAC in aces per set and finished near the top in Division II. Kendall Ward, tallied the second most kills for a freshman in the GLIAC that year, a total that was a team high.
Academically, the Tech volleyball team has continued to excel under the leadership of Jennings and his staff. The team's fall, in-season cumulative GPA in 2014 was an impressive 3.58. At 3.45 on the year, the team earned the national AVCA Academic Excellence Award. There were five separate 4.0 performances on the year.
The 2014 season featured a roster of nine freshman and sophomores, four juniors, and no seniors. At 8-10 in GLIAC play and 11-16 overall, these young Huskies had the program’s best season since 2009, despite being left out of the postseason by just two wins. Four of their ten conference losses came in five sets, an indication of just how close they are to turning another corner as a program.
2015’s roster will feature more depth than any time over the past three seasons. Still relatively young, the Black and Gold will feature nine underclassmen (including three freshmen), three juniors, and four seniors.
Jennings was named the seventh volleyball coach in school history Jan. 27, 2012 after serving as both a head and assistant coach, which most recently included a five-year stretch as an assistant and recruiting coordinator at the Division I level. Directly preceding his start at Tech, he served three seasons as an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, formerly of the Big East, and current member of the ACC.
Jennings served as Pitt’s recruiting coordinator and worked with the passing, defensive and outside hitting elements of the team. The Panthers compiled a 51-44 overall record during his three years there including a 20-win season in 2009 and an 18-win campaign in 2011. Pitt reached the conference post-season tournament all three seasons Jennings was there. In 2009, the Panthers entered the post-season with a 12-2 Big East record and in a tie for 2nd place. Ten of the twelve league wins came 3-0, a program record. That season included wins over two top 25 teams and multiple individual awards.
Jennings probably made his biggest mark at Pitt as the program's recruiting coordinator. He orchestrated back-to-back nationally ranked recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012 (prepvolleyball.com). With the incoming class of 2012, Pitt landed five Illinois all-state selections, two high school All-Americans and three AAU National Champions thanks to Jennings’ recruiting. The class was, at the time, the highest ranked class in Pitt history, and was mentioned alongside the like of Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, Purdue, and more. In 2011, he helped sign three high school All-Americans and the 'Miss Florida Volleyball' runner-up who went on to be named All-ACC (2013). Prepvolleyball.com recognized the group as 'honorable mention', putting it among the country's top 100 incoming classes.
In his three seasons on staff, Pitt produced several highly decorated players, both athletically and academically, including: three AVCA All-Americans, six All-Big East selections, the Big East Player and Libero of the Year, an ESPN Academic All-American and the 2009 Big East Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. Since leaving Pitt to come to Tech, several of Jennings’ recruits have gone on to have stellar careers that have included All American, All Region, and All ACC honors, a stint with the US Collegiate National Team, and a professional career in Italy.
While in Pittsburgh, Jennings also served as a head coach at the Pittsburgh Elite Volleyball Club. He spent two seasons with the 18-premier team and one with the 17-premier.
Jennings worked for a season at DePaul University, in his hometown of Chicago, prior to heading to Pittsburgh. He was an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator and also helped the Blue Demons establish a program record for Big East victories. He spent the 2008 campaign as an assistant women’s coach at Eastern Kentucky, helping coach a player who set an NCAA record for digs per set.
Along with his time at the college and club levels, Jennings has been part of two international travel teams. In June of 2008, Jennings was selected to lead the USA Athletes International Men’s Team in the Scottish Open Volleyball Tournament in Perth, Scotland. Having never played before the trip, his team went on to win the tournament with an undefeated record and a victory over the Scottish National Team in the final match. Then in the summer of 2013, Jennings took a similar group, this time female, to the Netherlands where he, for the second time, led the team to a tournament championship. The group went 8-2 overall and won the DKV Tournament in Groningen.
The Chicago native played men’s volleyball at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., from 2000-03. He was a four-year starter, a two-time all-conference performer and a 2002 Collegiate Club All-American. He helped his team to a national third-place finish in 2002.
Jennings began his coaching career at NAIA member St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa. From 2004-06, he served as the head men’s volleyball coach and head women’s junior varsity volleyball coach. He helped his men’s team to a conference runner-up finish and top-10 national ranking in 2005. With a 19-player recruiting class in 2006, Jennings’ players set out on a course that saw a once struggling program reach the top tier of the NAIA. St. Ambrose has had nine consecutive 20-plus win seasons since and has reached national championship three times.
Jennings earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and political science from Augustana College (Ill.) in 2003 and received his master of business administration (MBA) from St. Ambrose in 2006. He has spent time working in the financial industry as a credit manager for Wells Fargo and an associate business analyst for the Northern Trust Company in downtown Chicago.
Jennings and his wife, Mary, were married on July 11, 2015, in Copper Harbor, Mich. Mary is the Director of the Rozsa Center for Performing Arts at Michigan Tech and is an artistic collaborator with the university’s Visual and Performing Arts Department. She also is an experienced yoga instructor. They live in Hancock together with their two dogs Jade and Molly.