PHOENIX – As Samaya Morin prepared to compete in her first beach volleyball tournament, then Grand Canyon coach Kristen Rohr was in attendance. At first sight, Rohr saw raw talent in action on the court and started recruiting Morin heavily.
Their relationship morphed from player and spectator to player and coach at Grand Canyon University. Now the bond between the two enters its next phase at Arizona State University, where Rohr is entering her first season at the helm of ASU beach volleyball after spending eight years coaching the Lopes.
Rohr first spoke with ASU Senior Associate Athletics Director Ken Landphere and discovered that their visions aligned for the future of Sun Devil beach volleyball.
“Everyone was so nice and so supportive, and had the desire for the program to get to the next level,” Rohr said. “It really just kind of rejuvenated me in a way, like a new challenge.”
Rohr is just the third head coach for Sun Devil beach volleyball and aims to elevate the program in the same way she did at GCU. She replaces Brad Keenan, who put up a 90-97 record in his seven seasons with the Sun Devils.
In the 2023 season, the Sun Devils finished with an 11-13 record (6-5 in Pac 12). The team’s six conference wins were the most in program history.
During her eight seasons at GCU, Rohr posted a 148-71 record, and most recently led the Lopes to back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances.
“They were the first ones to take a chance on someone that had no college (coaching) experience,” Rohr said of her time at GCU. “I was very fortunate to get put in that position, and I loved my time there.”
In one of the first meetings with the ASU team, Rohr and her staff asked the athletes to name the pillars of their program, and the response was clear: Culture and respect.
Creating and building a strong culture within a team sets the foundation for success. ASU’s beach volleyball team set those expectations from the first team dinner.
“There’s so much change with half our team being new and having a new coaching staff,” said Morin, a junior who transferred from GCU. “The fact that we’re all going to be able to grow and kind of rely on each other through this process is definitely going to strengthen the bonds and the relationships in that family culture that we’re looking for.”
Rohr’s primary focus revolves around not just coaching volleyball, but building relationships with the players.
“The best part about it is she cares about you as a person, not just who you are on the court,” Morin said. “And I think that’s something really special.”
Rohr, though only in her second head coaching job, uses her prior experiences to guide her. After graduating from the University of Kentucky in 2005, Rohr played professionally from 2007-2015 with the Association of Volleyball Professionals (AVP) and on the National Volleyball League tour. As a player, she was ranked as high as fifth in the country. As a coach, she took the GCU program from unranked in 2015 to a top-15 team in 2017. From 2021-23, she led the Lopes to three straight top-10 rankings.
Rohr’s attention to detail will be key this upcoming season. ASU beach volleyball welcomed seven new players this year, two freshmen and five transfers. With so many fresh faces coming in, everyone is starting at square one.
“Returners aren’t even going to feel like returners really because everything is so different,” said newly-hired assistant coach Abbie Hughes, who played two seasons under Rohr at GCU. “We’re all so new to each other, that there’s going to be growing pains within us.”
Chemistry building started at the first team dinner, where the players said they wanted to be a family and support each other. Developing that team culture was one of the main priorities for the coaches entering the year.
“I think it’s important to set those expectations early,” Rohr said. “It also has to come from the athletes being bought in and wanting to build that as well.”
“We know that with the talent and the athletes we have, good volleyball will follow,” Hughes said. “But without those two core things, the volleyball is going to be inconsistent.”
Just as important as creating that family culture within their team, Sun Devil beach volleyball wants to create an environment where athletes fully buy-in. That all-in mentality not only benefits the play on the court, but it strengthens the culture of the team as well.
“I feel like with this program, what’s so important is that the student-athletes are proud to go to ASU,” Hughes said. “It’s so important to have that loyalty and pride for your program.
“When you play for a team that you love, everyone plays harder, and there’s just more pride for your program.”
“I think it’s everything,” Morin added. “I think it’s going to be a big part of everything that we do here, and it’s definitely going to get us to a better place for sure.”
Whether it be organized team bonding, grabbing dinner or having a pool day, Sun Devil beach volleyball has strengthened that family-first mentality as the team prepares for the 2024 season.
“You know, when you have 24 females on a team, not everyone is going to be best friends off the court,” Rohr said. “But, you do have to respect everyone and know that every single person has your back regardless of what the situation is.”