Volleyball

Yelin looks back on career at Louisville heading into Syracuse’s matchup with Cardinals

Sam Maller | Asst. Photo Editor

First-year Syracuse head coach Leonid Yelin will take on his former team in Louisville on Friday. Yelin went 366-112 in 15 seasons with the Cardinals.

Sitting in his office under a commemorative frame for his 400th career win and surrounded by other mementos from his coaching days at Louisville, Leonid Yelin reflected on his time leading the Cardinals.

“It was a wonderful 15 years and I’ll never regret spending 15 years in a great community,” Yelin said. “Looking back, I have no regrets.”

The first-year Syracuse head coach and his team will take on Louisville on Friday at 3 p.m. in the Women’s Building. It will be the first time Yelin faces the Cardinals since his departure in 2010.

Yelin was hired in December 2011 to take over an SU program that has never been to the NCAA tournament. When Yelin arrived at Louisville, his job was to rebuild the volleyball program, and he did just that in his 15-year run, logging a 366-112 record and taking the team to 14 NCAA tournament appearances.

Bringing SU to the postseason is now his challenge.

Throughout the season, Yelin has said this is a rebuilding year for Syracuse. He and assistant coach Stephanie Cantway have been working together since he coached her at Louisville.

Cantway was captain of Yelin’s squad for her junior and senior years, which included two trips to the sweet 16 and four conference championships. She said she is proud of what she did with the Cardinals and enjoys coaching with Yelin as they work to turn the program around.

Yelin and Cantway were also in four NCAA tournaments together, so not being in that type of atmosphere is new to them. But it’s something they expected since they knew they needed to rebuild Syracuse.

“I don’t know life without them,” Cantway said. “The position that we took in coming here was a new and different challenge. … At Louisville, we were pushing to try to be in the final four. Here, what we preached to the kids in the first meeting of the season was let’s make NCAA tournament for the first time in history.

“You’re pushing towards a different goal and that’s the reason that we came here — to start over and build. That’s the challenge, it’s different.”

Yelin came to Syracuse for a new challenge after spending more than a decade at Louisville and one season as an assistant at Colorado.

“It kind of comes a time when you want to do something different and somewhere else,” Yelin said.

In Yelin’s mind, his 15 years at Louisville were not just about coaching. He raised his family in Louisville, and the city became his home.

While at U of L, Yelin had opportunities to coach at other schools with a bigger volleyball presence. His loyalty to the school, though, kept him from moving.

“I didn’t feel like I could do it for a number of reasons,” he said. “The school was nice to me, they had nice volleyball fans, my family was comfortable and of course my kids didn’t want to leave their friends.

“It was a very nice coaching experience.”

Yelin said one of the biggest differences between Louisville and Syracuse is the popularity of volleyball. Due to the Cardinals’ success while Yelin was coach, the team became well-known and drew large crowds.

In Syracuse, the volleyball program hasn’t had the same success. But Yelin and Cantway are trying to bring their experience from Louisville and apply it to SU.

Yelin’s new players like the new experience playing under a coach who’s brought his previous teams to the highest level of college volleyball.

“I do like what they’ve done and I do believe that it’s for all of the right reasons,” sophomore defensive specialist Melina Violas said. “One of the biggest things is trusting your coaching staff and believing they’re doing all these things for the right reasons.

“We just have to keep trusting in their system.”

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