The 2016 season marks Matt Jennings’ fifth as head volleyball coach at Michigan Tech. Through his first four seasons leading the Huskies, Jennings has orchestrated a steady rebuilding of the volleyball program. After 33 total wins over the first three years, the Huskies piled up 19 victories in 2015, including a school record 10-match winning streak to begin the campaign. The team also qualified for the GLIAC Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Huskies finished 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the GLIAC last season.
Fourteen of the team’s 19 wins in 2015 were 3-0 sweeps, including the first road win over Northern Michigan in 23 years on September 29. Three players finished in the top four statistically in the GLIAC for their positions with all earning All-GLIAC honors. Setter Rachel Pohlod (Honorable Mention) was second in the league with 10.9 assists per set while middle blocker Lauren Emmert (Second Team) had a hitting percentage of .340 to rank third. Libero Jackie Aird (First Team) finished fourth in the league with 5.04 digs per set and established herself as the best defensive player ever to play for Michigan Tech, becoming the first player in school history to record 500 or more digs in a single season, finishing with 529. She closed the books on her career as the program's all-time leader in digs (1,882) and digs-per-set (4.44).
With 31 GLIAC wins and 52 overall under the leadership of Jennings, the Tech volleyball team has made an impressive move up the standings 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 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.
In 2013, then-senior setter Maddie Haben was voted to the All-GLIAC Second Team. Also in 2013, 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.
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 10 conference losses came in five sets, an indication of just how close they are to turning another corner as a program.
Aird set the single season record for digs with 491 in 2014 with her 4.86 digs per set average was also a single season program high. She earned All-GLIAC Second Team honors. Emmert was statistically one of the most productive players in the conference as a freshman. Leading the Huskies in kills, blocks, and points, the 6-1 middle blocker was a Honorable Mention All-GLIAC selection and ranked in the conference top 10 in several categories, including points, points/s, kills, and kills/s.
Academically, the Tech volleyball team has continued to excel under the leadership of Jennings and his staff. The team earned the national AVCA Academic Excellence Award for the second year in a row with a 3.52 GPA for the 2015-16 academic year and 11 student-athletes with 4.0 GPAs over the two semesters. Fourteen Huskies have been named to the GLIAC All-Academic Team and 21 to the GLIAC Academic All-Excellence Team over the last four seasons.
Jennings was named the seventh volleyball coach in Michigan Tech history on January 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: five 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 indoor and sand All-Americans, 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, Illinois, 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 (Illinois) 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, Michigan 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.